Sunday, August 3, 2014

Ben The Balloon Guy

People started asking me awhile ago, "How did you learn to start doing... balloons?"  I have the same answer every time: I was hanging out with the wrong crowd, and it just happened...

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Photos from Nepal

I have assembled a few photos from my time in Nepal.  Click the link below to go to the Facebook album.  (You do not need a Facebook account to see the photos!)

Photo Album from Nepal

Friday, April 11, 2014

Fly Site- Sirkot, Nepal

View of the grounds and the round house at Sirkot.
ParaglidingEarth Link
BabuAdventure Link
Blue Sky Expedition Link
Sirkot is the sort of flying destination that only an ambitious daydreamer would concoct, the sort of place I don't think anyone could have imagined success for twenty years ago when paragliding was an odd fringe sport. The proprietor here is the famed Babu Sunowar Sherpa, who made a big splash several years ago with his summit-to-sea expedition in which he and a partner flew, cycled, and kayaked their way from the summit of Everest to the mouth of the Ganges, without the assistance of big sponsors or logistics teams.

Located several hours Southwest of Pokhara by Jeep, this is not a place you'll be able to find with public transportation or possibly even with a good map. Your best option is to contact Blue Sky Paragliding in Pokhara who regularly arranges trips there. It may also be possible to collaborate beforehand with other pilots through the “Paragliding Nepal” group on Facebook.
Jeep ride en route to launch.
At Sirkot a regal-looking roundhouse perched scenically along a terraced ridge serves as a lodge for the nearby launch that is the preferred starting point for an appx. 40 km XC flight back to Pokhara. Both the views and food here are great! A tail wind reliably nudges flight paths towards Pokhara, and a series of four ridges perpendicular to the route provides lift for crossing the valleys in between.

One should not attempt to fly from Sirkot without receiving a briefing from a local pilot/guide who will introduce you to the logistics of this somewhat remote area. If you don't have XC ambitions, of course you can still fly here, but the area is remote and is not as conducive to the kind of independence that pilots can enjoy in the outlying areas of Sarangkot. From Sirkot there a number of pre-set LZ's that you can be picked up from by Jeep should your long-distance plans for the day not pan out.
On glide towards Pokhara...! I didn't make it.  Bummer.
Hazards: The usual precautions regarding rotor and developing weather apply. Here in the more rural areas of Nepal there is an additional hazard less common around Pokhara: wires, good lord, the wires. Electricity is distributed in a sort of spider-web arrangement from small generative sources in these areas, and one may encounter electrical lines strung high across valleys where it makes no sense for electrical lines to be. Always assume that there are wires strung across the otherwise appealing folds of the mountains where you would normally go to seek lift.

Also, I witnessed an accident at launch here in which a newer pilot was blown behind the ridge to a hard landing within a minute or so after launch. It was totally unnecessary and pilot error, but it should be noted here that the ridge is indeed steep and and narrow.
Hope you like daal bhaat, I sure do!
Opinion: As lovely as my trip to Sirkot was, it also so ended up being somewhat unexpectedly my most expensive several days in Nepal. For this reason I am hesitant to recommend it as a destination unless you have a serious desire to attempt the XC flight back to Pokhara. While I understand the reasons behind the relatively high costs, I remain opposed to the idea of daily fees for airspace usage and supervision- not my cup of chiya masala. Were there facilities at launch to maintain that would be one thing, but there are decidedly not. Here's my tally for three days and two nights:
  • Food (daal bhaat): 250 Rs per meal (x5 meals total $12.50 US )
  • 1st day Supervision fee for instructor/guide (one-time, mandatory): 30 Euro ($40.00 US)
  • Airspace usage fee: 10 Euro per day (x2, $25.00 US)
  • Jeep transport one way to/from Sirkot: 1000 Rs (x2, $20.00 US)
  • Jeep transport from LZ back to Sirkot: 500 Rs (x2, $10.00 US)
  • Camping fee: 400 Rs/night (x2, $8.00 US). Rooms available for appx. $12.00 US/night.
I recall forking over somewhere around $120.00 all together for my several day trip to Sirkot, in contrast to Pokhara where I was able to live very comfortably for between $5.00 - $10.00 per day for all food, lodging, and transport. The time I spent flying around Sirkot was amazing and well worth the trip. Undoubtedly a similar trip almost anywhere else in the world would cost five times what I spent.

I'm glad I went, but I can't say I'm inspired to go again.  Good luck and fly safe!

Fly Site- Sarangkot, Pokhara, Nepal

Mid-air selfie.
ParaglidingEarth Description Link
Blue Sky Paragliding Link

Perhaps the best way to introduce Sarangot to a visiting solo pilot is with a cliché: here you'll find the good, the bad and the ugly. The good here is truly great, though I'll confess it took me a day or two to see past the bad and enjoy myself. I'll forgo going in to detail here about logistics, meteorology, or routes as I sometimes do because many others already have: simply Google “Paragliding Nepal” or “Sarangkot” to find a plethora of information. Here it is my aim to help you make the decision, “Is this the kind of place I'd like to visit for paragliding?” Speaking for myself, I learned more, set more personal records, and met more new friends here in a month than I would have almost anywhere else. Highlights included taking a three-day SIV course and also making a successful circuit of The Green Wall, a relatively easy XC loop of about 35 km that begins and ends at Sarangkot. There may be a few issues on the ground with Sarangkot, but once up in the air all is well!
En route to one of three landing zones spaced conveniently along the edge of Phewa Tal.
The Good: The setting is spectacular: as a backdrop for some of the most consistent and friendliest flying conditions anywhere in the world are a jaw-dropping six-thousand meters of rock and ice to the North, and Phewa Tal to the South, a large lake well-situated for those aspiring to practice acro and SIV. The geography and climate inspires XC routes limited only by the imagination, and pilots regularly achieve 100 km triangle flights from here in peak flying season (January-March). One can learn from some of the best pilots in the world who visit often for extended periods, and a regular community of both local and ex-pat pilots exists to welcome anyone who is serious and respectful about flying here. There is something for every level of ambition from ridge-soaring to regularly scheduled SIV courses to XC expeditions.
Evening briefing for SIV course with David Arrufat of Blue Sky Paragliding.
If you're looking for a place to start making sense of the scene make your way to the North Lakeside area of Pokhara. Here you'll find several of the more long-established paragliding booking offices including Blue Sky, Frontiers, and Sunrise. Sunrise sells a fold-up map with various XC routes and other useful information for flying in the area. Pop in to one of the the offices and if someone has a moment they should be able to line you out. In this area also it is possible to share taxi or jeep rides up to launch at Sarangkot between the hours of approximately 9:00 am and 12:00 pm- just look for anyone wandering around with an over-sized backpack. (The time of day may vary some with season.) Outside of these hours you may have some difficulty in finding other pilots to share costs with. The ride is approximately 25 minutes and about 700 rupees ($7.00 U.S.).

There are also several hiking routes up to Sarangkot, which I personally made regular use of! Hiking time would be about 1.5 to 3.0 hours. The trail beginning in Khapaudi just outside of Pokhara is my favorite one. Follow the shore of Phewa Tal headed out of North Lakeside, and after 2 km look for for the turn-off with the sign that says “This Way to Sarangot” with an arrow. After appx 0.75 km there is a turnoff on to a trail up in to the brush. If you can find this, the way is obvious from here, it's all up! It is not well marked but is well-trodden.
Be prepared to mobbed by people demanding to help fold your wing, or give one chocolate, or one rupee, one pen, etc.  Obviously most Nepalis find such behavior distasteful so don't let such pestering leave you with a bad taste in your mouth.  Disarm them with your amazing charm and talent, like my ability to juggle for three seconds!
The Bad: Perhaps nowhere else will you find a place where the sport of paragliding has been so thoroughly commercialized and overexploited. No less than twenty businesses operate to take tourists on tandem flights, and rumor had it that twenty more had applied for permits for the following year. At the main launch and in the nearby house thermal you should be comfortable with the idea of flying in a gaggle. Same rules apply here as anywhere else: circle in the same direction as everyone else, and always, always be scanning for traffic in 360 degrees.

Upon my first visit to the main launch area at Sarangkot I watched slack-jawed as I witnessed the kind of missteps and trespasses occur every fifteen minutes that would go down in history for bad launch juju nearly anywhere else. It as if all the pilots crowding their way to the front thought they were in a mosh pit... Before getting your equipment out the first time I recommend just observing take-offs at launch for at least an hour to see what sort of crowd you'll be flying with. See my earlier entry about Pokhara for a longer rant, but let it be said that one should proceed with extra caution to guard themselves against actions of other pilots here, particularly in your first days. I had never flown in real crowds before coming here and it took me a few days to get used to the idea of starting out in a gaggle. In summary, you will not be the first visitor to have discovered this flying Shangri-La.
On Cloud Ten- one step above Cloud Nine.
The Ugly: The amazing flying here appears to cultivate a level of peril in equal proportion. There are various unattractive aspects of flying here that should not be overlooked, though nor should they deter anyone from the idea of coming to this great place.

Reports of injuries, fatalities, and near-misses were spoken of a bit too regularly for my comfort around Sarangkot. Perhaps this is merely a result of the large number of people who fly here, but in general I found an attitude towards safety a bit more casual than I have witnessed in other renowned flying areas of the world, of which I have visited several. Bottom line: don't let it rub off on you.

When I visited during February and March 2014, a commission of local aviation and free-flight officials that may or may not be a sort of mafia had just elected to totally prohibit all beginner pilot classes. Perhaps this is an attempt to mandate better safety by removing less-experienced pilots from the crowds, or perhaps it is part of an effort to stifle potential future competition for already-employed tandem pilots.
If you dare step outside your hotel on the day of Holi in mid-March, be prepared to be assaulted with color...
There is officially a fee of approximately $50 U.S. that is to be paid for your permit to fly in Nepal to the C.A.A.N. (Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal), to be renewed every two weeks. That comes out to around $1200 per year if one were to maintain their permit in Nepal year-round, an impressive extortion compared to my yearly $75 USHPA registration back home in the US. There are several uniformed officials manning the launch area as well as one checkpoint on the road up who are said to occasionally check permits, though I never met anyone who had it happen to them. I recommend acquiring your permit initially when you arrive, carrying it with you, and I'll leave the decision up to you if you think it's necessary to renew it should your flying plans last longer than two weeks. Acquiring your permit requires that you show the following:

  1. Proof of membership in the national paragliding organization of your country.
  2. Proof of insurance covering paragliding activities.
  3. Your passport, as well as one extra passport-sized photo (easily acquired in Pokhara).

I got my permit from the Blue Sky office in North Lakeside, though I believe almost any paragliding office can help you with this process.

I hope that the future is bright for this place and to return someday soon!
Head to the landing zone at the far West side of the lake to practice your ground handling, truly a great spot!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Bandipur, Nepal

Bandipur, Nepal with Himalayas in the background.
Above launch at Bandipur, I've finally begun to clear the haze inversion that lies constantly like a dark ghost across every otherwise beautiful vista of the country. I'm the lone glider in the sky today, the only pilot in this little town actually, which is not really ideal- it's always good to have second opinions and extra eyes to assess conditions and plans when it comes to flying- but I couldn't resist on a day like this. From up here above the messy chessboard of a valley below I can make out distant snows on the Himalayas. Hawks circle lazily below to show me where lift is to be found, the air is smooth, the threatening clouds still distant on the horizon. A hilltop Buddhist temple at the end of the ridge I am soaring over has a little boy who waves enthusiastically each time I pass every ten minutes or so. Or maybe he's throwing rocks at me. I'm pretty sure I did see a rock, the punk.

After forty-five minutes or so of easy soaring the cumulus in the distance start looking a little too-cumulonimbus-y for my tastes, and I decide it's time to come down for a landing before the powerful clouds approach any closer. The conditions have grown stronger by now and it takes me a good twenty minutes of big-ears and wing-overs to come in for a landing. Several times I descend but am blasted back up in to the sky just before touch-down. When I finally slide in to a gentle stop in the small field centered along the ridge my heart is pounding and sweat rolls off my forehead. I check the wind, gusting to 35 kph now.
"You take me fly?"
Still hooked in to my heap of lines and material, two little girls maybe ten and eleven appear out of the brush. They are sporting large rusty khukuri knives and sandals and pink t-shirts with American cartoon characters. They set down the heavy loads of brush they have been collecting, wood for cooking fuel no doubt, to come investigate this thing that fell from the sky. I'm by no means the first paraglider to appear here- for perhaps the last ten years or so there has been an occasional trickle of pilots visiting Bandipur, a small ridge-top village with a fly site that would be considered spectacular anywhere else except when compared to nearby Sarangkot, one of the world's most spectacular, popular, and busiest launches. But it's still not quite any everyday occurrence that pilots show up here so surely they are curious. I'm relieved that I'm not immediately harangued for coins and chocolates- the girls are either well-behaved or still unspoiled by tourists handing out incentives to pose for photographs. They stare and chatter among themselves. I unhook myself from the harness and exchange a few words of rudimentary Nepali then pass them my hand-held wind gauge to play with while I'm folding up my equipment, which they button-press with gusto.

I decide to wait around for a while to see if flying conditions improve. The girls leave their work behind for a moment to play, fashioning flattened water bottles to bare feet like mini-skis to slide down the grassy slope, the rings of cellophane labels for bindings. Here like everywhere in Nepal there's plenty of empty bottles strewn around on the ground- centralized trash collection is not an institution anywhere except perhaps the most upscale areas of large cities- so I flatten two more bottles and join in myself. I am heavy compared to the girls though and do not slide so smoothly over the grass. They are still watching me carefully so I perform a few dramatic trips and somersaults in my attempts to ski. Everyone cracks up, my work here is done.
Landing fee receipt for which I paid one time when I landed in the village in the valley down below Bandipur.  I think the writing translates as. "Hey, we've got rich people falling out of the sky, why not?"
After some practice they've got skiing down pretty good. They slide all the way down to the bottom of the slope with arms extended like plane wings. They turn around and point at me and circle their wings a few more times before running back up the hill. They must have seen me take off a while ago so they know you have to build up a little speed just before launch. They spread their wings as they have seen me do, their imaginations taking flight.

After a half an hour or so they are back to work and dive in to the brush to search for anything not yet reduced to stumps. I don't have a big knife with me but I attempt to help by breaking off smaller branches to add to their pile. They seem charmed by my efforts.

As I'm returning to the field with a load of brush a well-dressed family apparently out for a sightseeing picnic is up at the launch. I add my brush to the pile and they come over to investigate. There is a young man about my age in fancy sunglasses and slicked hair, his wife in heels that somehow must have managed the steep and rocky trail up here, a son and a daughter in tow. The young man's English is quite good, he says he is home for a few weeks from working in construction Saudi Arabia where he has gone to seek the attractive wages of a few hundred dollars per month. He wants to know how much my paraglider costs, and how much money do I make per year. I give him a low-ball estimate on both numbers and he slaps his forehead in hilarity. And how long I am here in Bandipur? I tell him I'm not sure. But I can stay here for as long as I want, he says, right? Who cares about time when you've got money?

I grimace back at him politely and decide to go back to helping the girls collect firewood. When I return with another load the family is gone, and the girls arrange their loads in tight bundles. One of them failed to bring enough rope for the job and I watch her collect an armful of tall grass and expertly weave it in to several meters of strong twine in just a few minutes. They arrange the loads on their backs supported by a tump-line across the forehead and head downhill back to town with a wave and namaste.

I am left up top alone with a sunset and too much time on my hands.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Pokhara, Nepal

Bodhananth Stupa just outside Kathmandu.  My first night in Nepal I awoke to thousands of red-robed monks circling this enormous thing, chanting and humming and singing.

Here in Nepal, money is the biggest problem in my life.  Specifically it is the lack of small change that is challenging- the ATMs will provide cash only in one-thousand rupee bills, though a typical transaction might involve only around one hundred rupees.  Imagine if you tried to hand your barista a hundred dollar bill every other day you came in for a latte- such is my daily preoccupation, except no lattes.  A dhal bhaat set meal, for example, piled high with rice and curried lentils and cauliflower with chapati bread and masala tea- a nice, simple meal- might run around one hundred rupees, or $1.00 USD.  In this situation I will usually feign act of sifting through my wallet for the appropriate change, then smile apologetically as I hand them the thousand rupee note.  The cashier or taxi driver or whoever it may be will look at it disdainfully then check back to assure them I do not have smaller notes.  A trip will be made to inquire to the nearest neighbor if they have change, then on to the next, until someone is grudgingly agrees to help out.  Most locals don't always have the kind of cash on hand to change a thousand rupee (about $10.00 US) note when minimum daily wages might be more around two or three dollars US.  I am wealthier here when I have small change on hand.
Near Bodhananth
I provide the example of my “problem” of finding small change not to be patronizing but because it highlights the asymmetry of the tourist sector and the local economy here, which exist not necessarily together but in parallel to each other.  There is one set of goods and prices for foreigners here and a different set for locals.  In the Lakeside district of Pokhara where few visitors seem to venture far from and where I find myself passing through some mornings on the way to the paragliding launch at Sarangkot, one can find such exotics as lemon cheesecake and pizza and trekking poles and shouts from a throng of people hawking their services and demands- shoe repair, taxi, rafting, marijuana, good time mister, shave your beard? one rupee please?, and the ever-present children's demand of “one chocolate?”  (Whoever started conditioning these kids to expect candy from foreigners, consider the relative scarcity of access to dental care here...)  Just several blocks away from this commercial gauntlet the world returns to some closer semblance of normal- hardware stores where women out front crowd around piles of limestone slabs, crushing them in to gravel by hand with large metal pestles, cows and goats and feral dogs wandering among the trash-strewn alleys, armies of uniformed school children with red paint dabbed above the bridge of their nose marching purposefully towards class, tall stacks of oranges or shoes or candles or anything for sale arranged in the middle of the sidewalks.

After my first several days holed up in Lakeside bedridden with the flu, shivering in the tropical heat, I shook off the zombie-ish curse and moved myself to a more peaceful area several kilometers outside of town called Khapaudi near the designated landing zone for paragliders.  At Guest House '”In To The Wild” I meet Uzzawal, who had advertised his digs as a paraglider-friendly place via a paragliding user-group of that I sometimes monitor.  I was greeted with a cup of tea and a smile.  He pointed out the landing zone below within a stone's throw of our table. 

Uzzawal with tea!
Uzzawal was excited to meet someone from Alaska- yes, the name of his guest house was inspired by that “In To The Wild.”  I explained that many Alaskans have mixed feelings about this book/movie/fly-trap for attracting clueless backpackers to Healy, Alaska.  “Right.” he says.  “Dying is not good.  That is why I change the meaning of 'Wild' to this: Wisely Intentionally Leaving Desire,' like in Buddhism.  Otherwise it is a good story.”  I have found the modern Buddhist, leaving Desire en route through Hollywood.

My home for the next few weeks at the foot of Sarangkot (the mountain from which paragliders launch) is a one-room adobe hut with a straw roof for one about one dollar per night.  It lacks some of the sophistications of other guest houses like hot water or a generator to fill in the gaps during scheduled power outages (usually for about 8-10 hours of the day here), but it is a perfect fit for me.  Uzzawal is an idealistic and well-traveled soul who provides his services seemingly not for commercial gain but because he envisions a more genuine experience for visitors here.  It's not clear to me if the economics of his business plan align with reality, but I'm glad to be here for now.

From the guest house I could see a veritable locust swarm of paragliders like I'd never seen before circling the peak looming above, and even heard the distant shouts of excited tandem passengers high above in the throes of the loops and swirls of their flights.  There are supposedly at least 120 tandem pilots who work out of Pokhara, and looks as if all of them are out working the same thermal every day.  I've never visited anywhere where the sport is even as remotely commercialized as here.  It is easily the most crowded skies I've ever witnessed in my experience of visiting more than twenty launch sites, and I was intimidated to even consider flying amid that sort of close range.  I braced myself for disappointment and got my equipment ready to head up.
View from launch at Sarangkot
A twenty-minute taxi ride shared with two Brits who I spotted wandering around with over-sized backpacks brought us to launch.  Once there, it was a level of chaos even greater than I envisioned: a near-miss collision every fifteen minutes or so as everyone races to get off the ground, tandem pilots jockeying with solo pilots for a spot to lay out their wings, aborted launches ending at the edge of the steep field in a heap of tangled lines and material, show-boaters strutting their ground-handling moves amidst all this crowding.  Everyone seems to accept such gross negligences as par for the course.  I found a shady spot to observe the scene for the next two or three hours, waiting until late afternoon before attempting to launch.  I asked one of the Brits for a site briefing, which usually consists of details about wind patterns and geography.  Instead, it was this: “Just don't have a mid-air [collision].  Look everywhere, always, because not everyone else is.  Just launch safe, fly safe, and land safe.  Anything else about distance or hours or acro or whatever is just gravy on top.”

Above the Annapurna range.
Once up in the air I finally understand all of this insane elbowing: this is an awesome place.  Intending for nothing more than a mere sled ride (gradual descent to landing), I easily boated around on several house thermals for about forty-five minutes with the snowy Annapurnas as a backdrop.  The landing zone is a wide, flat field with a consistent breeze perfect for ground handling that I took advantage of until dark.

The following week developed in to a comfortable rhythm of flight: breakfast at the “Sun Well Come” cafe in North Lakeside where fellow pilots convene in the morning to share transportation, an afternoon of attempting to fly as far and as long as I can muster and weather allows (usually 10-20 km), landing out near some little village, then navigating public transportation back to town.  After a few days of shared taxi rides to launch I found the trail up Sarangkot, which makes for about an hour and half hike uphill through terraced rice paddies and goats who scamper when I approach.

The act of flying itself is a sort of Zen-immersion experience for me for about which I don't have too much to write.  One is entirely focused on the act of piloting.  When asked, I try to emphasize that paragliding should not be treated or thought of as an “extreme sport” or carry all the baggage that comes with that label.  It comes with the same responsibility of piloting any sort of craft, whether it be a jumbo jet or a mini-wing: the same physics apply.  With a glider, one descends gradually through smooth air until wham- turbulence rocks the glider, and a sharp turn is made to stay inside it.  Then turning, turning, turning, spiraling around inside the bubble of rising air that lifts us up to the clouds, and scanning the horizon for the next circling hawk who will mark the next thermal.  Thermals are by nature inconsistent phenomena- it's always a gamble of sorts as to if there will be another rising air bubble a few minutes in to the future after one dies out, thus is what is happening now, here in the moment that is the more essential focus.  That's about as much as I understand about Zen.

Upon landing I am always mobbed by someone demanding something.  Kids who insist on helping to fold my wing for a few rupees, unbidden taxi drivers who start piling my belongings in to their car, property owners inquiring if I have something to share.  My favorite, which I have not encountered elsewhere in the world, is when some ambitious teenager wants to practice ground-handling with my wing.  If I have have time I'm usually happy to oblige, usually they're quite good at it.  It's a situation where we can both gain something while bypassing the usual neurotic demands of “one chocolate”- I can watch and learn from them, and they can borrow equipment that they otherwise have little access to, which they are already more talented at using than I.  Flying has been popular long enough here that many kids aspire to it.

"You let me ground-handling?  I very good."
With the approach of a competition to be held here I decided to bug out of town o nearby Bandipur for a few days while the crowds persisted.  A fellow pilot from Holland, Tom, best summed up my feelings about flying competitions: “ I don't understand why people race paragliders... it seems sort of like racing frogs or cockroaches.” 
Usually the mobs of kids I get upon landing are all boys.  This was the first all-girls crew I'd gotten, they hadn't learned how to pack and fold the wings yet so I was happy to teach.  I got a tour of the family chicken farm afterwards.
More to come later!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

En route again...

Annecey, Iquique, Olduniz, Point of the Mountain- exotic names that mean nothing to most people.  But those involved in free-flying anywhere in the world have heard of them and know them as meccas.  Also on the list above (located in France, Chile, Turkey, and Utah, respectively) is Pokhara, Nepal, where I'm headed tomorrow.

I've told everyone I am headed there to do some flying, which is true.  There are certain places in the world where climate and geography coalesce in to magically reliable swells of gently rising air, outside of which the sport is only a shadow of what is possible.

I'm headed there too for the reason that it is not here, that it is someplace outside of my usual routine where I can more seriously pursue things I want to achieve.  Personally, I find myself doing very little flying when I am home in Alaska.  Not solely for the fact of less consistent weather but mostly because it takes a decisive step outside of my usual routine to be able to devote time to and focus properly on flying.  I'm signed up for an S.I.V course in mid-Feburary, a three day session in which I will work with an instructor to practice emergency flying maneuvers while over a lake.

Paragliding in Nepal is not a new thing.  It is in fact possibly the busiest place in Asia for the sport.  Paragliding is one of those things that tourists by the dozens do there (usually as tandem passengers).  From reading other travelers accounts I confess I am a little intimidated with the idea of dealing with the sky traffic.

I'll have my comically large backpack with flying gear in tow, but what I always seek in travel is less about a particular activity or visiting a list of attractions.  My goals lean more towards that elusive "in" that the self-appointed post-tourist like me seeks: to be immersed, to be confused, to be hot, hungry, humid, uncomfortable, surprised, enlightened- to be not seeing what you have come to see, but instead finding what is there (to paraphrase G.K. Chesterton).

I recently received an email full of travel wisdom from Sara, a friend who visited Nepal and India some years ago.  She recalled wandering around outside of Pokhara one day and joining a family in a nearby village for dinner one evening, and wrote this to me:

...Her son hung out with us to practice his English while she made us some of the best food I've ever had.  The boy wanted to be a teacher there in the village; when we asked him if he ever wanted to travel, he said no.  "Why would I go see the world when the whole world wants to come here?"  Gesturing at the Annapurna peaks behind him.  Maybe he's a teacher now.

I feel that way about Alaska sometimes- why would I go see the world when the whole world wants to come here?  But then I am also reassured by another of my favorite writers:

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.” 

― Mark TwainThe Innocents Abroad/Roughing It