Following an adventurous (or perhaps more realistically, arduous) journey, we are finally safely installed in Achham. On Wednesday morning, we met our new teammates Andrea (Director of Operations) and Bhinnata (Assistant Country Director) at the domestic terminal of the Kathmandu Airport, where we were able to negotiate “overweight fees” for our baggage. Being that we were transporting supplies for the hospital, they only charged us two thirds of the “overage fee” for all of our bags. We then proceeded to climb aboard a tiny propeller plane, operated by “Yeti Airlines.”
One hour later, after a stunning Himalaya-viewing-session, we landed in what felt like a completely new world. Dhangadhi, just north of the Indian border in the far western corner of Nepal, was a sea of green. The rice fields were in full of post-monsoon growth, and water buffaloes grazed in the fields nearby. Our jeep driver was waiting when we got off the plane, with a freshly washed, shiny “Scorpio” (very much like a Land Rover) that we proceeded to pile our luggage and selves into. At 2:00 p.m., as we set off toward the mountains, which rise abruptly from flatlands as far as the eye can see, he told us that if we didn’t make any stops we might be there by 11:00 p.m.
The jeep ride from Dhangadhi can take anywhere from 8 to 15 hours, assuming the road is actually passable (which it often is not). As we began our ascent into the “hills,” the drive began to get interesting.
In Kathmandu, between the cars, motorcycles, rickshaws, bicycles, dogs, pedestrians, etc., it seems miraculous that there aren’t accidents at every turn. Here in the rural areas, however, the driving proved even more treacherous than city driving. Steep inclines, narrow roads, cliffs in the place of shoulders, and sharp turns aside, our driver also had to swerve constantly to miss people, cows, goats, pigs, dogs, chickens, and anything/anyone else who seemed to enjoy hanging out in the road. To top it off, buses, trucks, jeeps, and seemingly out-of-control motorcycles sped down the switchbacks and many missed us by just inches. Needless to say, it was a slightly stressful passenger situation.
We all tried to get some sleep once it got dark, mostly in an effort to block out the realization of the black abyss that consistently threatened to swallow our jeep and us, as we veered around each bend. Huge sections of road had been washed out during the monsoon season, and 50-foot-wide mudpits remained for our driver to skillfully navigate.
At long last, after our 9-10 hour drive, we pulled safely into the driveway of Bayalpata Hospital, and stumbled wearily into the site of our next eight months of adventure.