It’s the beginning of day three. Day one was largely logistics like getting from the airport – via our local guides (a lovely gentleman named Prem) own old Toyota Camry and sorting out local sim cards for our phones. Driving here is an experience but look beyond that and the streets are full of life and colour and activity. Then we wandered up and down the Thamel district and totally loved it. Day two yesterday we just continued to experience the streets and food and sounds and smells.
Yesterday morning we had breakfast outside our accommodation on a local roof top terrace with 360 degree views of Kathmandu and looking straight at the Monkey Temple on a nearby hilltop.
I want to take a moment to talk about the streets here and how some people might find them fearful experiences. Because repeatedly Australians tell me about how dangerous the traffic is in places like where I am now and how it stops them from experiencing all the other parts of travel.
They miss out on the experience travel by going and staying in their motel or they don’t go at all – because they fear injuries and accidents in what seems like chaotic road conditions.
Fear and danger are different things. They are both real. But in my experience people from privileged western backgrounds get very fearful in areas in second and third world countries for all the wrong reasons.
Fear in Australia seems to largely be about things that we may never experience. Our lives are so comfortable and safe it’s almost like we have to create drama with unnecessary fear mongering and our media outlets are exceptionally good at that. Why? Because it sells. So we must crave it somewhere in our psyche – but I think we now confuse fear with anxiety because of our privileged lives.
For example if you are frightened of traffic with (what looks like) no road rules (there are but from our perspective it looks like chaos) – you are going to experience fear here.
Mild Kathmandu traffic Click for video
Sometimes we “buy in” to media fear mongering way too much – particularly about traffic conditions in countries that are foreign to us. These kind of messages may stop us from traveling or swimming (shark! shark! shark! when less than 3 people die a year and millions swim every day) or even laughing (I have met someone who was afraid that if they laughed too much they would have a stroke). Basically we can and will fear anything if we don’t question what is fearful behavior and what is actual danger.
I was reminded of a conversation I once had in a tea room with two mainstream Australian Engineers and one Engineer who was from Pakistan. The two Australians kept harping on about bad drivers and the other man was perplexed by the levels of unnecessary fear in the conversation.
What he found even more perplexing was that they were talking about an accident that could have been prevented by simply hitting the horn and warning the other distracted driver to move or by slowing down. He then ranted and raved at the man “how would you know? Where you come from no one can bloody drive and there is no decent roads”…that kind of rant.
The man calmly replied, “Oh we have roads, many different types and drivers are bad all over the world. We just honk our horns and value life more by not assuming the other person will move”.
The Australian Engineer got angry at the other man when he questioned why the Australian man had not just slowed down and honked his horn – angrily retorting that it was rude to honk your horn.
I then, frustrated by the “redneckery”, asked the Australian man, “so it was better damage your car or have an accident than to honk your horn? And have you ever been to Pakistan to comment on the roads or the drivers?”. He would not answer and stomped off and left the tea room and most of us were relieved! Turns out he had never left Australia because he was afraid to. He replaced his fear with anger and bravado and putting other people down – anything but admit he was afraid.
Some Australians seem to think the roads must be perfect and other drivers must respect them but are not prepared to take any responsibility for their own driving habits.
Here horns honk and people slow down. Little narrow roads, roaming dogs, beggars, children, cows, yaks, bicycles, motorbikes and monkey’s mean that if you don’t honk your horn and slow down you are in a world of hurt.
So people don’t get offended at honking a horn. And pedestrians and cars just slow down. As a pedestrian…horn honks, step to the left. Slow down (both vehicles and pedestrians). It’s really not rocket science and there not piles of injured and dying people alongside the road as a testament to “no road rules” as some mainstream Australians would say. I’m sure the road statistics are dreadful but there are ways to stay safe as a visitor.
People here are, by far, better drivers than some Australians I have met who resort to whining about road conditions and other drivers endlessly when we have some of the best driving conditions in the world.
There is a very real danger in the traffic in Kathmandu, of that I have no doubt. But I am not going to sit in my hotel room and worry – I’m going to get out there and “just keep my eyes peeled” with full confidence that someone will honk their horn and I will step to the left!
If I live in fear of being hit by a car then I wouldn’t get out and about in Australia either.
Perhaps it is because of the nightly news that we are subjected too in Australia – endless nasty images of mangled cars. The majority of those fatalities are caused by alcohol and speed – take a look at the ABS stats and you will clearly see a pattern.
Roads don’t kill people, people driving cars do. If you are aware and slow down you will have much less chance of getting hurt or injured (no matter where you are in the world).
We all are afraid at some time or other. The best medicine is to face that fear by getting to know ourselves, what are our triggers, what frightens us and talking about it. Then if you want, getting out and facing that fear.
When in REAL danger you will be surprised at how good your adrenalin system actually is. It’s what kept us alive when we had to worry about regular dangers like saber toothed tigers.
Some other fears that people have expressed to me about travel to other than European countries (because they won’t get out of their comfort zone) are:
1. Disease. Yep, it’s real too. But the serious ailments you can find vaccines for. If there isn’t a vaccine and there is an outbreak – stay away from those places (Ebola) comes to mind. 25% of Australians who die overseas it’s because they didn’t get a vaccine. Doh! Again it’s not rocket science. One thing you need to accept. You will get “gut rot” when you travel to places with less than first world conditions. Sorry, but there are ways to manage and minimise that – you won’t die and you won’t totally destroy your trip either. Take water purification tablets/ filter systems. Take gastric stop type medication when it continues and a good travel doctor will arm you with the right anti-biotic and advice. Our kits for this trip are quite comprehensive. And for goodness sake have travel insurance.
2. Language. So you don’t speak the language? Never mind. Buy a phrase book. Look for English speakers and actually ask them what the words are for basic phrases and use them. People will respond in kind and you will have a much happier trip and you will learn heaps. Fancy that! 🙂
3. Cost of travel. Hmmmm….there’s a whole another post on this. I’ll end by saying this – don’t whine to me when I come back to Australia that I am “lucky” to be able to travel. Particularly don’t do this with a cigarette in one hand and an alcoholic beverage in the other. This trip is worth about one year of those things alone and if you halved your consumption two. You are worth more than giving your health away to a tobacco company surely? And yes, 5 star travel is expensive. My advice is to try two star, learn some language, reduce your prejudice about other cultures, see amazing things, challenge yourself and build brain cells rather than kill them with substances and FEAR.
4. Terrorism. Oh my…again another post in itself. All I will say is – research and go somewhere with lower risk. More Australians die every year from falling out of bed than terrorist attacks (regardless of the current bullshit on TV).
Finally, people will tell you stories about experiences that are not necessarily positive. Listen to those that give strategies to avoid the situation and who see the experience as something to be overcome so that a trip can be fully enjoyed and appreciated. But don’t listen to horror stories (and usually these are from people who didn’t go but are second, third or even fourth hand accounts).
F.E.A.R = False expectations appearing real.