It dawned on me as soon as I woke up in the hotel. I had no friends. Feeling lost, I dined alone with my cooked breakfast. For the past 18 days, I had been surrounded by my Everest group. They were there when I woke up and there before I went to bed. We shared the ups and downs of hiking to Everest Base Camp (quite literally) and now there was no-one. It was just me.
Kathmandu was the hardest place for me to meet other travellers. Having travelled the world I knew the tricks. I met people all over the place – two Dutch blokes watching porn on their mobile (pre smartphones) on the Trans-Siberian Railway to Mongolia, randomly met my friend Tom at a hostel near the Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand, and then again as he passed me on his tuk tuk to Lake Titicaca in Peru, in common rooms, kitchens and dorms and on different modes of public transport across the globe. In fact, on my way home from Nepal, I ended up chatting a fellow Brit who was on the same flight back to London. Even when I took the bus from Pokhara, and got caught up in a five-hour strike, I ended up befriending an Aussie and Argentinian.
The difficulty of meeting people in Kathmandu when you’re a solo traveller, is that there isn’t a central point to meet other people. Sure there’s the pubs, but I’m not that confidant striding into a dark pub or bar, ordering a drink and walking up to a group of random people and start talking. The same with cafes. Either people are with their friends, on their smartphones, reading or writing their diaries. I even replied to a thread on the Lonely Planet’s forum – The Thorn Tree. But alas, she replied too late.
In Kathmandu, people are merely passing either to or from their trips to the mountains. There are no hostels, mostly guest houses and besides, I was only paying between £4-£8 for my own room and en-suite. I was certainly taking advantage of low season prices. But the downside to this is that there wasn’t many people around.
I decided on two solutions – volunteering and organised trips.
I read in the Bible that is the Lonely Planet about the Kathmandu Environmental Education Project – KEEP. As an avid supporter of sustainable tourism, I had planned to come here to find out about hiking trips and ways to become a green traveller. I ended up staying in crazy, busy, polluted Kathmandu for four weeks, teaching English to a group of porters and guides.
The last time I taught anything, I was only 17 and was completing my Community Sports Leadership Award. Here in Nepal, I was co-teaching with a retired French English teacher with 38 years of experience. Yes, I can write and yes, I can teach how to pronounce things correctly, but I can’t explain the nuts and bolts of the English language.
Having just come off the Everest trek, I knew the what information trekkers would need and the conversations and questions that we would ask our guides and porters. As a Brit, I was determined my class would know about home. We are known as Great Britain, the United Kingdom, or just Britain. England isn’t Britain, London isn’t the capital of Scotland and England is certainly not in France!
We taught directions, parts of the body, different words for being sick, continents, grammar and in return I leant firsthand about the Nepalese culture and country. One of the lads was a monk from the age of eight, and when he was 20 or so, he wanted a girlfriend, so left the monastery. For traditional Nepal, this is not the done thing, but he did it anyway. Another young lad ran away from his village during the civil war when he was 14 to live with his aunt in Kathmandu. He’s now 18. I cannot begin to imagine what that is like. For some of my students, they have a four-day walk to get home. Growing up in Nepal is a world away from my childhood where I was driven to and from school, or had a 30 min walk back home.
We really do have it easy here. But I digress – I really enjoyed teaching. I also learnt more about my mother tongue from a French woman and met some wonderful people from different backgrounds. Travel is about learning. I certainly did here. Feeling throughly ashamed of myself, I now have a grammar book to work through.