I never thought I would have reason to say to someone, “Sorry I’m late, it took longer to dismember the goat than originally planned.”
I was twenty-six years old, worked at a well-paid job, rented a fantastic apartment, and enjoyed a large circle of friends. I had everything, except I didn’t. I couldn’t shake the feeling I was missing out on the experience of living.
Part guidebook on culture and travel, part journey of self-discovery, this travelogue takes you on a backpacking adventure through Nepal and Thailand and provides a firsthand account of one volunteer’s experience teaching in a Nepali school and living with a devout Brahmin family.
Trek with me through the bamboo forests and terraced mountaintops of eastern Nepal, take a wild river-rafting ride in class IV waters, go on an elephant ride and encounter a charging rhinoceros on jungle walks in Chitwan National Park, sea-kayak the surreal waters of Krabi, and snorkel in the Gulf of Thailand. Join me on some of the scariest bus rides you could imagine, explore beautiful and intriguing temples, experience religious rituals unknown to most Westerners, and visit mind-blowing places not mentioned in your typical travel guides.
Notes of a Naive Traveler is a must-read for those interested in learning more about – or wishing to travel to – Nepal and Thailand. I hope it inspires you to see these amazing countries for yourself.
Front cover artwork: ‘Folly in Divinity’, acrylic on canvas by Don Farrell
5 stars: “For anyone who has never traveled to a country whose culture is different from your own, you don’t know what you are missing. It’s an incredible experience, as this journey through Nepal and Thailand portrays. The author’s story is whimsical and at times flirting with danger. For those who have traveled, it’s the trip home that actually is more of a culture-shock, than the places visited. Travelers expect and anticipate differences, but once experienced, we look at our own culture with entirely new eyes. This book gives you that look at Nepal and Thailand, and I recommend it for anyone thinking about taking a trip … anywhere.” – Author Rebecca Carter
5 stars: “In this phase of my life when time is scarce travel becomes the casualty, but thanks to the eloquent and detailed ticket that authors like Jennifer Alderson buy on our behalf, along we can go for the ride into the most exciting, uncomfortable, frustrating and exhilarating backwaters of our planet — without the need to risk our digestive system on the questionable water and dubious plumbing.
I had the advantage of having traveled to Thailand some years ago, so that with more than half the book in the Himalayas and the balance in my familiarity, I was able to identify strongly with that part-2 of the travelogue and so set a gauge for me to sense how accurately she captures the spirit of a place.
I am happy to say that my experience aligns precisely with how she characterized Thailand; I have confidence then that I can fully trust her opinions from the Himalaya.
“Notes…” is a wonderfully engaging companion that took me to the Himalaya a place I’d love to someday see but am unlikely to ever reach. It did more than send me down the well worn path of Jane or Joe tourist, instead, it gave me an in depth view into the lives or ordinary folk I’d pass on the street of a backwater but likely learn nothing about.
To Jennifer then I say ‘thank you!’ This is a rare gift indeed.
Keep traveling for me and us.” – Author Michael Smorenburg
5 stars: “I consider myself a Traveler. Let me be clear – Travelers are people who own a passport, know how to drive a stick shift and actually leave the resort. Disney is not traveling.
Being a legit Traveler, I’ve had my share of mishaps. Flipping a canoe in Belize, blowing through a police brigade in Guatemala and crashing the rental in Ireland all come to mind. But these fond memories of risk and happenstance pale in comparison to Jennifer Alderson’s journey to Nepal and Thailand.
Jennifer Alderson is an Explorer (and a pretty good writer to boot). Explorers are Travelers who kick it up a notch. Say what? Let’s break it down.
Traveler: Rafting the Saco River with guides who part-time as paramedics and carry an ample supply of bottle water, insect repellant, sunscreen and of course – extra towels.
Explorer aka Jennifer Alderson: Rafting in Kathmandu Valley with…actually…I’ll let her explain it…
“we hit the water again, though this time straight into a long rapid called ‘the monsoon’. We all thought this was the extent of the big rapids and secretly I was happy. Twenty minutes later we were getting tossed around in the biggest waves I’ve ever seen in rapids the guides nicknamed ‘upset’, ‘surprise’, ‘two rocks’, and ‘mother fucker’. We barely made it through ‘upset’ and ‘mother fucker’ without tipping when I got thrown into (thankfully not out of) the boat! The other raft – there was only two – lost a guide to the river in ‘mother fucker’.
When a guide give the rapids a nickname such as “mother fucker” it’s panic at the disco baby.
Jennifer Alderson’s Notes of a Naive Traveler is a travel journal, letters to home and personal diary. It breathes with authenticity. Real-life is refreshing. Being hit on by a chain smoking Nepalese with a fetish – not so much.
“Nirmal is a strange guy. He laughs like an embarrassed schoolgirl when discussing the idea of having a girlfriend, yet talks about Nepali males’ desires to visit prostitutes as if we were discussing the weather. It was an odd night. He was obsessed with seeing me smoke a cigarette; I still have no idea why. He was practically begging me to light up – it struck me as some sort of fetish, but I couldn’t fathom the turn-on he would get from it. Nor do I care too.”
The Explorer had her share of run-ins with “strange guys” during her travels. As well as a run-in with a charging Rhino in Chitwan National Park.
I couldn’t get enough of her “transportation” descriptions. I am sure it was hair-raising at the time but reading her take on it, I laughed my ass off.
“The ride back to Kathmandu was comfortable and relaxing. There were more overturned trucks (the gas-powered ones seem to tip the most often, I’m surprised there weren’t more explosions), goats being herded across the highway by ancient women, children playing games in traffic, private cars and buses alike pulling over in the most inconvenient places for a picnic or public bath, and best of all the suicidal overtaking maneuvers (or what we would call ‘passing’) by our bus and others while going downhill at incredible speeds or around hairpin turns uphill with absolutely no power left to actually get around the other vehicle.”
“I can see very faint lines painted down the middle of some of the roads, but I must be the only one. No one driving seems to notice or care.”
“Meandering cows, tenacious bicyclers, belching taxis, rickshaws, fearless pedestrians and the occasional mobile ‘cigarette and sweets’ stand all fought our taxi for room on the narrow two-lane road turned local byway”
And my favorite…
“I ended up in the back seat of a chicken truck’s cab heading through beautiful scenery and disastrous roads to my hotel. About an hour later, we stopped to sell a few hundred of the chickens to a butcher shop.”
Notes of a Naive Traveler: Nepal and Thailand is a heart filled journey through the eyes of a young nomad who had the courage to exchange Starbucks for Stupas. So pack your bags and enjoy your trip. Just be sure to bring hand sanitizer.” – Libro Illustrato by Kyra Leary