Nepal needs your help!

I normally always enjoy writing my blog and generally have a funny story or two to share. Sadly today is different, today Nepal is in a state of dis-pair due to the powerful earthquake that struck 2 days ago on Saturday 25th April. To date more than 3500 people have been killed and over 4000 people injured. Depressingly this number is increasing by the minute.

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Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world with a large population of approximately 28 million with 1 million people living in Kathmandu; although a suspected 3-4 million are living in the capital unofficially.

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Powerful earthquake hits Nepal

Here are a new photos that been shared from the media highlighting the devastation in the capital Kathmandu.

The earthquake – which measured 7.8 on the Richter scale has flattened and destroyed a lot of Nepal. In Kathmandu the famous and iconic Dharahara tower collapsed, and Kathmandu, Patan’s and Bhaktapur’s durbar square are all in pieces. Not only has this causes a huge amount of deaths and injuries but it is a huge loss to Nepal’s cultural heritage. Below are pictures of Patan Durbar square before and after the earthquake hit.
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Aftershocks

I really didn’t think things could get any worse but I am told by friends in Nepal that on Saturday in Kathmandu they felt at least 20 aftershocks. Yesterday it was reported that an after shock reaching 6.7 on the Richter scale was felt. Consequently most people are too scared to go back in their houses so sleeping out in the cold.


The Unreachable

The media has shared a lot of what has happened in the capital and the city of Pokhara. However little is known about what has happened in the more rural areas such as in Kathmandu valley and districts such as Dhading and Gorka which are close to the epicenter. Most of Nepal’s rural areas are made up of lots of villages where there are no hospitals and poor accessibility. In January this year I had the pleasure of staying with my guide friend Ram and his family in a little village in the district of Dhading.  I had an amazing time and was looked after so well.

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Above are pictures of my time in the village and the lovely children who kept me occupied.

This village is 150 km from Kathmandu but takes about 7 hours to get there due to poor condition of the road. These villages are built in the valleys prone to landslides.  It is villages like these that will be virtually impossible to get to yet it is these villages that may need aid the most.

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A village destroyed in Lamjung.

Throughout Nepal there are houses built on the side of the road next to huge cliffs. Given what we know about the devastation in Kathmandu I dread to think of the impact that the earthquake has had on these very vulnerable people.

Dozens of British travellers and climbers are among the hundreds feared missing or dead after being caught up in the devastating Nepalese earthquake and Everest avalanche that followed.


Chaos in the mountains

Given the geographical position of Nepal the earthquake has triggered many avalanches in the mountains, one of which was hit is the famous and popular Everest base camp of the world’s tallest mountain.

At least 18 people have been killed and hundreds of tourists and guides are now trapped or buried in snow and ice as rescue parties struggle to reach them.  It is unknown the impact that the earthquake has had in other parts of the mountains.

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Amazing People

I spent 3 months in Nepal and during my time I met some of the most kindest and incredible people that I ever encountered. I know that it is not just me who feels this way – every-time I speak to someone who has been to Nepal will often say that it is the people that they loved the most. Of course this is quickly followed by Nepal’s beauty in both the mountains and in the south.

Any government in the world would have been overwhelmed by the scale of this disaster, but the logistical difficulties in Nepal, a poor, near-roadless, mountainous land, are extraordinary.

Aid agencies expressed concern for the welfare of survivors in the coming days, as overnight temperatures were expected to drop and people were forced to make do without electricity, running water and shelter. Save the Children have stated that Food, clothing and medicine will be urgently required.

Charities such as Oxfam and the Red Cross are on the ground given aid and helping in the search for survivors.

Any disaster that happens in the world is always upsetting but I suppose there is always an element of being able to detach yourself from what is happening elsewhere. Having spent time in Nepal, getting to know the amazing people and knowing the state of the road-less roads, poor infrastructure and the vulnerabilities of so many means that I can’t detach myself. Nepal provided me with experiences of a life time and although I am very lucky that I was not caught up in this disaster but sadly this brings little comfort to me knowing the suffering that this has caused and will go on to cause.

It is for these reasons that I have written this blog to plea for people to donate to charities on the ground giving the most needed support. The destruction and devastation caused by this earthquake is heartbreaking……please please please donate to support the people of Nepal. 

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There are lots of different charities providing support and it is often difficult to choose which charity – here are some of the major charities and details of the work that they are doing.

1). GlobalGiving is a charity fundraising website that has set up a fund specifically for Nepal relief efforts. The money collected will go to “help first responders meet survivors’ immediate needs for food, fuel, clean water, hygiene products, and shelter. Once initial relief work is complete, this fund will transition to support longer-term recovery efforts” run by vetted local organizations, according to a post on the GlobalGiving site.

http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/nepal-earthquake-relief-fund/ 

2). Save the Children an international NGO dedicated to promoting children’s rights and providing relief and support to children in developing countries. It has set up a Nepal fund to “protect vulnerable children and provide desperately needed relief to families.”

https://secure.savethechildren.org/site/c.8rKLIXMGIpI4E/b.9274575/k.FD90/Nepal_Earthquake_Childrens_Relief_Fund/apps/ka/sd/donor.asp

3). UNICEF, the United Nation program dedicated to helping children in developing countries, is currently“mobilizing an urgent response to meet the needs of children” affected by the disaster, and is working to deliver water purification tablets, hygiene kits and nutrition supplies to those in need.

http://www.supportunicef.org/site/c.dvKUI9OWInJ6H/b.9274583/k.FBFF/Help_Children_in_Nepal_Donate_for_earthquake_response.htm

4) Oxfam, a confederation of NGOs, currently has “aid workers … on the ground, preparing to launch a rapid response to ensure food and water reaches” survivors.

http://www.oxfam.org.uk/what-we-do/emergency-response/nepal-earthquake

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Vietnam massive!

Upon saying goodbye to Laura and David I was planning on some earlier nights and less hungover days. This plan started off very well when I returned to Saigon. I treated myself to an Indian meal followed by some drinks with peeps from my hostel. Instead of getting on it I went for a pedicure and massage and was asleep by 11pm. For the first time in my drinking life I had a sober birthday.  Was this my new life as a 31 year old??? Am I finally going to take sensible advice from my consultant that reducing alcohol will be good for my health?

I won’t leave you guessing my birthday behavior was a blip…..a few hours after arriving at Dalat family hostel I had met the lovely Mark and Mo and was enjoying a large glass of Dalat Rum, followed by several beers… the rest of the evening is a bit of a blur. However I do remember having a very funny night screaming at a local Vietnemease rock band to sing Backstreet Boys. This became a bit of a theme of Vietnam and at every opportunity we sang Backstreet boys.


Everyone loves a waterpark?!

The next day I joined Mark, Mo and our regrettable hangovers  to Nah Trang. Extremely excited we got up early and made our way to VinPearl Waterpark where  we were joined by the crew below and had an amazing day.

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10471492_846491899184_7316240214918142164_nThe slides were surprisingly amazing and we had a lot of laughs however one of the funniest moments of the day was in the sea. Being lazy we all headed to the sea for a wee rather than the 150 metres walk to the toilet. As the 8 of us walked into the sea  –  it was evident that we would be going for a group wee – this was probably pretty obvious to most of the people on the beach as we were all stood in a circle making sure that we were at least 10 metres apart. Surprisingly are explicit agreement of group wee was missed by Alberto….and as we were all doing our business Mark attempted to dare someone to put their head in the water. He didn’t get as far as shouting this as suddenly Alberto appears in the middle of the circle and jumps head first into the water shaking his face around. This was a bloody funny moment and poor Alberto was so unaware of the weeing session that he couldn’t understand why we were laughing. Even now when I think about this I cant help but laugh out loud and of course poor Alberto got just a little bit of stick! Sorry Alberto but I couldn’t not write about it.


The beautiful Hoi Ann

After a fab day I made my way to Hoi Ann and met up with the lovely Raegan, MJ, Shauna and Giadai. Little did I know that this was only half of their crew and I was soon introduced to Sia, David and Alexia on a lovely cycle to the local beach and a visit to the Marble Mountains.

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We were later joined by Mark and Mo and my favourite 18/19 year old’s the amazing Anna and Henry. Despite being 13 years older aghhhh – we got on amazingly well and I only wish I could have been quite so cool at their age…..and yes before anyone says it I know I am not now.


Hoi Ann to Hue on Motorbikes

The next day we all headed to Hue. Mj, Ragean and I made our way on motorbikes which was the most incredible day. Our lovely drivers looked after us extremely well over some crazy roads.

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Uncultured 2 days in Hue

Most of my time in Hue was spent at Hue Backpackers sleeping, eating or drinking. We had some fun nights though.

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Crazy but incredible day in the caves of Phong Nha 

A group of us rented motorbikes and made our own way to the caves.  It started off so well but after an hour we got lost and then Henry’s motorbike broke down. 10271431_861373973904634_5043843923671572168_o (1)11081067_857564147618950_2694957496771680378_n
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On the 1st try they bike guys couldn’t fix the bike so instead her pushed the bike with one leg while driving….only in Vietnam.

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We then had to wait while they tried to fix it again so naturally it was beer o’clock while we waited.

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After waiting what felt like forever the bike was fixed. Well we thought it was….15 minutes later it had broken down again. We eventually got to Paradise Cave but by the time we got there it was well after midday and we were worried that we wouldn’t have time to do the Dark cave so we then started to run to the cave which is about 3km. We looked pretty damn crazy and when we got to the cave we showed up very sweaty…..strange westerners!

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Eventually we made it to the dark cave and I am so glad we did as it was AMAZING. We zip wired to the cave. As we walked further and further into the cave it became darker and muddier to the extent that when all our torches turned off you couldn’t see anyone because everyone was head to toe in mud. We then head to Kayak out….well I say we I relaxed whilst Henry did all the work. This was pretty damn good as it was just getting dusk and the sun was setting. We then rode back to the hostel with a group of about 50 other motorcyclists just in time to get fed and showered before we hopped on the night bus to Hanoi.

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Buffalo North Run                   

An amazing 5 days spent in the North of Vietnam. We started off in The Mai Chau Valley where we explored the area on motorbikes.

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We then made our way to the untouched mountain village of Mu Cang Chai exploring the area on foot.

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Our last stop was in Sapa where we went mountain biking,, exploreed the local vilages and went to the Herbal Tea baths.

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Chaos at Castaway in Halong Bay 

I’m not sure what to say about the 3 days we spent at Castaway. It started off quite civilised with a few beers on the beach and my first time at wake boarding. I loved it but I was terrible, I managed to stand up once but was so excited that I did I forgot what else I had to do.

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The Beautiful Halong Bay

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As we sat enjoying the sun and the incredible views the group who came the day before arrived back from their booze cruise singing and screaming at the top of their longs…..they all looked a bit feral although clearly had a great time. Later the evening drinking games had begun, we played a big group card game and if you had a certain number you had to take part in random tasks such as kissing the bar man (lucky man) and racing to perform various sexual positions….culture at its best.

If you think these games are  bit extreme it had no comparison to some of the forfeits such as making guys get naked, shot gun a beer whilst having toilet roll up their bums which was then lit. I was determined to not have to do any forfeits. In hindsight I think I would have preferred a forfeit as while running to kiss the bar man (this was a task) a rather big guy stood on my foot. Despite this I was still in a desperate frenzy to not be the last one so I continued to run while he was stood there- not one of my best decisions. The good news is that I did not have to do a forfeit -the bad news is that I could not walk.

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As the evening went on the drinks were flowing – my foot felt much better…..was it a miracle??! No of course not – reality hit when I tried climbing out of the top bunk to go for a wee in the middle of the night. On my return to Hanoi I went for an xray and was told that I had two broken toes….doh!

I was gutted as it was our turn to become feral on the booze cruise. This didn’t stop me though…I even managed to go kayaking. Sia also had a drunken foot injury so we paired up in the disabled Kayak. Good job we were fast as Henry was in his kayak trying to capsize other people. Bloody 18 year olds…haha

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Luckily all my training at BMF sent hopping came in useful as I hopped around for the next few days. As a shit dancer it worked well for me as when you dance hopping style no-one can tell….in fact people were joining in

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Definitely the first and probably the last time anyone has ever copied my dance moves. I can’t complain really as for the next few days I had offers from handsome men to carry me.
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CONSTANT CATAPLEXY

As always for me laughing and fun is a trigger for my cataplexy which means you will often find me collapsed on the floor. During the trip to North Vietnam this was a frequent occurrence and at times I was paralyzed for large periods of time as I couldn’t stop laughing.

In the first couple days of meeting this lovely lot my cataplexy was fairly controlled with  only minor attacks such as the buckling of my knee and flickering of my eye lid. This is quite common when I meet people as I am more likely to have a cataplexy attack when I feel comfortable in a situation and when I have been drinking alcohol. Apparently by day 3 I was extremely comfortable as my cataplexy had taken a turn for the worse.  I had anticipated that this was going to happen at some point so I had told most people and they  knew what to expect but what I have learnt over the last 2 years is that describing it and actually seeing it is extremely different.  But amazingly again this lovely group of people took me and my narcolepsy in their stride and after 3 attacks they were always inn a position to help me and make sure I didn’t hurt myself. I have mentioned this in a previous blog but I continue to be overwhelmed with how amazing people are about it.

During the 3 weeks of travelling with this bunch my cataplexy attacks made a regular appearance often triggered  by Emily aka Mj who is probably one of the funniest people I have ever met.

There were so many funny cataplexy moments that I would need a book if I was going to write about them all but here is a few of my top 5. I have taken such a long time to write this blog that I have probably forgotten quite a few but these are the ones that firmly stick in my mind.

1). Falling to the floor in an alleyway on several occasions thanks to MJ’s story about her friend and toothpaste. Days after if Emily just mentioned the word tooth paste it would set me off. Problematic when we were brushing our teeth in the morning.

2). Mj and her face – now before I sound incredibly mean Emily is a hottie and it is not actually her face making me laugh but she is very witty and has great comical timing so every time I looked at her it reminded me of something funny that she had said previously.  I tried explaining this during a cataplexy attack….but I could only say as much as ‘your faa’….before collapsing to the ground again.  This happened  about 15 times in a row during a 20 minute wait for the bus. At one point she actually had to walk away from me as just looking at her made me collapse. 

3). Falling out of my sleeper bus seat -there was  a big group of us on the sleeper bus to Phong Nha and to be fair we were all being a bit rowdy. However for some reason an angry lady on the bus decided to pick on Henry saying how rude he was. Any what was so funny was that her main gripe was how unintelligent he is. Henry’s response was “I think that is the meanist thing that any has ever said to me”. Luckily I had moved to the lower bunk but within seconds I collapsed and was half laying in the aisle sit.

4).  Playing volleyball in the pool – I hit the ball with extreme force which made it pop out of the water and went through a hole in the wall. This was pure accident and I would never of been able to aim this on purpose. We all found this very funny and suddenly I had collapsed and heading to the bottom of the pool. Of course this is serious but for some weird reason when my cataplexy happens in the water I seem to find it even more funny. Luckily I had Mark to my rescue and he quickly lifted me up to take me out of the water. Mark was really worried about getting me out of the water as I continued to have a few more attacks, however I was more worried about my already lop sided bikini falling off. I decided to stay out of the pool to save my dignity and to stop me from drowning.

5). Why did the chicken cross the road? Yes this is ridiculous as it sounds….I won’t say any more about this.


SAD GOODBYE

I want to say a massive big thanks to all of the Vietnam crew as we had a an amazing few weeks but particularly for being so amazing with my crazy cataplexy outbursts. I have mentioned this in a previous post but I keep being so amazed by the kindness and support given to me by people I have just met. By the evening of the first day when most of these lovely lot saw my cataplexy they were always just there when I was about to collapse. Particularly Mark, Mo and Sia who I could always here giving instructions for someone else to watch my head. Every single person in our Vietnam massive was amazing and I  was always really touched when I could hear this lot explaining to others when I was in a collapsed state. One funny time was when I could hear Giada in her angry Spanish mode telling someone to leave me alone and that I was fine.

It was unbelievably sad saying goodbye to everyone but I am looking forward to some fun reunions potentially in London, Australlia or Holland.

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Good morning Vietnam

After weeks of counting down I finally arrived in Vietnam to meet up with my lovely friends Laura and David. The plan was to meet in Nha Trang and travel to the South from there…..unfortunately due to a delayed flight, a long visa queue and falling asleep on the bus I missed my train and had to book a night bus later that evening. At the other end of the country Laura and David were having similar problems due to the Vietnamese New Year, Tet.

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We were all finally reunited in Nha Trang early the next morning at our hotel….to our surprise my cataplexy behaved itself and I stayed firmly on my feet when I first saw Laura and David, maybe I wasn’t happy to see them after all?? Only joking of course I was and we had a great 2 days in Nah Trang which first started with sun bathing on the beach,  followed by a crazy booze cruise.

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The tour started off fairly civilised with sunbathing on the deck and jumping off the boat to cool down.

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We had anticipated a party day so we were slightly gutted when most of the other people on the boat did not seem quite the party type…..we were not the only ones to notice this and were soon invited to join the other boat and shunned upstairs by the staff to join the the other “young westerners”. This is where the madness began – the crazy but lovely tour guys kept encouraging / forcing us to drink beer (well maybe force wasn’t needed). They were all very excitable and would randomly shout out sayings such as “up the bum no babies” and “up the bum, don’t tell your Mum”.  The beers flowed well accompanied by a  delicious lunch and banter with our new friends.

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After lunch we were hurried downstairs to watch the  Funky Monkey boy band. It was pretty random but there voices were not bad and they were very entertaining.

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After a few well known songs it was our time to join in…..most people were dreading this. I on the other hand was looking forward to a good singsong.

After all the singsongs the music got turned up and everyone was dancing on the tables followed by free drinks at the floating bar. By floating bar I mean a man in a  float in the middle of the sea pouring out disgusting free shots – this wasn’t quite the bar we had expected but it was free and bloody hilarious!!

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After a lot of fun in the sun we were headed to Saigon on a nightbus. The night bus was an event in itself with our bus driver being probably the most angriest Vietnamese man I have met so far. We got on the bus and he started shouting at us because we were late….and that he was going to kill us but he eventually calmed down and started laughing hysterically.

After a 10 hour bus journey we arrived into the busy Saigon and spent a day exploring the city dodging the hundreds of motorbikes as we crossed the road.

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In the afternoon we  visited the war remnants museum…..many photo’s with so many sad stories to tell.  We left feeling quite sombre and sad thinking about the brutality of the war and its many civilian victims but as we left we were soon uplifted by walking along the buzzing streets as the evening began.

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The next day we headed to Can Tho in the Mekong Delta – while scoping the streets for somewhere to stay we were approached by a crazy smiley Vietnamese lady. Within minutes she had won me over and we soon followed her to her guest house…..luckily it was a bloody good decision and thanks to the lovely Ms Ha we had an incredible next few days.
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Ms Ha and her lovely assistant took us on her canoe along the river for sunrise and to go to the local market.

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If it wasn’t for the photo evidence I don’t think I would believe that the sunrise really looked like this….but it did. The whole morning was incredible…..made even better by Ms Ha who is a bloody funny lady.

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By lunch time I was exhausted so my had my lunchtime nap on the boat joined by David who was also pretty shattered.

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In the afternoon we went on a epic 4 hour motorbike ride to the home of hundreds of storks at Banglang stork sanctuary.

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After an amazing but hectic few days we were off to Phu Quoc Island to relax on the beach.

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With all the time to lay on the beach during the day it was time to party in the evening and celebrate David’s birthday.

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There were lots of bars along the beach and the roadside but they were all pretty empty and quiet….untill we arrived that is! To our excitment we found a bar which allowed us to play our own music…..within the hour we were not only djing but behind the bar serving drinks too!

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Drinks flowed well and we ended up at some underground bar with the locals dancing until the early hours of the morning. It was all going well until our American friend fell over and hit his head on the side of the bar. Miss Marshall came to the rescue and glued his head together whilst standing outside the bar. Good job she did as it would of been a taxi, boat and bus ride to the nearest hospital.

In the morning we were all horribly hungover…..so while Laura sunbathed on the beach myself and David died quietly in the room.

Up until this morning my cataplexy had been suprisingly well managed and I probably was only having 1 or 2 cataplexys a day. Which is very unsual when I am in the company of good funny friends.

Maybe Laura wasn’t so funny anymore?! Ironically my cataplexy has become my indicator to how funny someone is. However this is not a valid test as it hugely depends on whether I have been looking after my body. I often and easily forget the extent that my lifestyle has on my health….with no work stress, little alcohol and regular sleep my outbursts of cataplexy are relatively low.

BUT of course my friends are in Vietnam so I wasn’t going to be a party pooper……and after large volumes of alcohol was inhaled alongside minimal sleep it was only natural that the days to come were going to compose of me laughing so much that I collapsed. For those of you who are unfamilliar with Narcolepsy it is a rare neurological condition affecting the brain’s ability to regulate the sleep-wake cycle, which can cause a range of symptoms such as excessive sleepiness and cataplexy. Cataplexy attacks involve a temporary involuntary muscle weakness in response to emotions – for me this is always laughter.  The severity of my cataplexy attacks can vary from mild facial weakness to the buckling of the knees and collapse whilst still remaining conscious.

In the morning whilst the three of us disected the night before I think I had approximately 50 cataplectic attacks in 2 hours – all of which were the violence aggressive type resulting in me being completely paralysed in a variety or random and ridiculous places. Some were bloody funny such as falling in the sand right after Laura had put sun cream on my back which meant I had inches of sand stuck to my body and at least 3 when I was coming in and out of the shower wearing a towel only…..falling to the ground acting as if I was at a nudist beach. I don’t know who I felt sorry for more David who had to keep running out of the room as I lay starkers on the floor or Laura who had full view and tried to cover me up. Luckily we are good friends!

These examples were all pretty funny and entertained us for a few days…but I also had some more dangerous ones when in the sea. Again Laura and David came to the rescue, taking all my body weight to prevent me from drownning in the water. I was gutted as really wanted to go water skiing but I decided to be sensible and save that for another day.

During our last few days we explored more of the island and found paradise a perfect way to end our time on this island.

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Sadly after a wonderful few weeks with Laura and David it was time to say goodbye as they returned back to London.

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Anything is possible….


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Reaching EVEREST BASE CAMP is a dream I have had for a while and the reason Nepal was top of my list to see. Months preceding my flight to Kathmandu I became increasingly pessimistic about my ability to conquer such an epic trip due to my narcolepsy….the risk of me falling asleep in the middle of the mountains was a scary prospect. However after only a few days in Kathmandu I found myself booking myself on a trek. I blame (and thank) this on the million of trekking shops in Thamel and listening to amazing stories by fellow travelers sharing tales of their treks.


POON HILL……THE TEST

Ignoring my anxieties I decided to do a practice trek to Poon Hill in the Annapurna region. I was pleasantly surprised that not only did I survive but it went relatively smoothly with only 1 problematic narcolepsy related incident. To be fair this was during the 4am steep climb to Poon Hill without medication.  I was testing to see how long I could manage without medication. DSC01901 From the start to end of this uphill climb I battled with staying awake. At first I just felt completely exhausted, this was shortly followed by me swaying from side to side and losing my vision.  I reverted to my usual tactics…. slapping my face, stamping the floor, and pouring ice cold water on my head. As ever these strategies were ineffective in keeping me awake. Half way up the hill (did I mention it was VERY steep) narcolepsy triumphed as I threw myself on to the floor for a quick 10 minute cat nap. I forced myself to continue and eventually got to the top, I don’t really remember this and pretty sure that I was asleep for the latter part of the climb. Luckily it was very dark so my stumble up the mountain was hopefully not too noticeable. I could see lots of other trekkers dive into their bags reaching for their cameras….my reaction to getting to the top was slightly different – I dived into the nearest space nearly knocking someone over in the process. Before I fell into s deep slumber I asked the closest person next to me to wake me up at sun-set….the man looked at me strangely but followed my instruction well and after 15 minutes he tapped me softly whispering “sun is coming”. After my brief cat nap I felt much better making the sun rise even more satisfying. DSC01914 Maybe I was a little bit too optimistic, sometimes I forget that my ability to function is due to two tiny little pills I take each morning. It is worrying to think about the impact these powerful medications are having on my insides but without them my life would be far too sleepy. I enjoyed a further nap in front of the fire at the tea house before I started on my 5 hour climb back down the mountain.

In general my brain behaved itself and with the help of my medication, midday naps and early nights this invisible disease was nearly invisible to me. I’m convinced the mountain air helps in someway. DSC01907 My trip felt particularly satisfying as I did it without a guide and porter relying on my map reading skills. I know this might sound like a stupid decision given my condition but I wanted to be able test out having no medication and sleeping in the middle of a climb…not so easy to do if a guide was with me.  All in all I was feeling positive about Everest Base Camp. DSC01935 Frustratingly I couldn’t completely shake off the feeling of doubt and apprehension about this adventure and had many a restless night (not that this is new) worrying about failing. I often said to people “it doesn’t matter if I don’t make it to EBC and that I will be happy that I have tried”. All who know me will know that I was lying through my teeth and that I would be devastated if Narcolepsy prevented me from reaching Everest Base Camp. My biggest fear was that altitude sickness would hit me hard because of my body’s weakness.


THE DAY HAD ARRIVED!!

On the 21st December I arrived at Kathmandu airport feeling both excited and terrified. Luckily I was distracted by a friendly, talkative Australian carrying a teddy-bear who I now know as the lovely JB.

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Most people seemed quite nervous about the flight but all I could think about was how excited I was to be able to have a sleep. DSC01981Within 15 minutes I was fast asleep and woke up just in time for the insane landing but incredible views of the mountains. I hoped that no one could see me sleeping because I was aware that I looked completely dis-interested in the mountains. This could not be further from the truth but as fellow narcoleptics will know, when you need to sleep you need to sleep. I concluded that enduring some mild embarrassment by sleeping on the plane was better than struggling to cope with Day’s 1 trek. This was a good decision and although I felt very tired, I comfortably lasted until we arrived at the tea house at 3pm where I had a very satisfying afternoon nap.

The days to come followed a similar pattern…..I made my way to the tea houses for lunch where I then treated myself to a post lunch sleep. By day 3 it was becoming increasingly noticeable that I was much faster than other trekkers….arriving to our destination 2 or 3 hours earlier than others. I admit this is partially because I can be ridiculously competitive but it was mainly motivated by my fear of time running out. What I mean by this is that each day I have a limited time of feeling awake and energised….in my day to day life I have to make plans around times when I am more awake. Trekking in the mountains is no exception!

Most trekkers felt that having regular stops and taking it slowly conserves their energy. For me it does the complete opposite – the more quiet time I have – the more I feel tired and sleepy. What worked for me was walking at a good pace, with few stops and lunch at the end of the trek allowing me to sleep directly afterwards.


HIGHLIGHTS!!!

 My Amazing Trekking Family

Meet the lovely (from left to right) Lauren, Ginny, Matt and Bec. The most amazing people to share this incredible trip with.

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Crossing many many bridges, always covered with beautiful prayer flags DSC02001 DSC02047

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Yaks, Yaks and Yaks…..and buffalo’s of course

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Amazing Stupas along the way snowy srtupa


Christmas Day Hike to Dingboche

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Breathtaking views of the mountains. beautiful mountains

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Celebratory beers at Namache we did it beer-to be honest the drinks were not needed, we were all pretty drunk on oxygen.


NARCOLEPSY MOMENTS

Despite having the most amazing time…it would be a lie to suggest that the trek was easy and there were times where I did not feel strong enough to fight with Narcolepsy and I seriously considered giving up.

Excessiveness tiredness and sleep attacks:

The worst day was the last day, climbing down the mountains. I stopped regularly to sleep …on the path, café and any spot I could find. Despite having regular naps my ability to stay awake while trekking was diminishing.  On a few occasions I completely lost my balance and needed to be supported by my guide. This really was 2 hours of HELL…..I was desperate for it to be a suitable time to take my 2nd dose of medication. I normally take this at 1pm but at 11.30am I gave in.

Cataplexy:

Unsurprisingly cataplexy played a prominent part in the whole trek. This was inevitable given I had met a good group of friends who I found very funny. From the moment I met Bec I knew that cataplexy was going to join us; this started from the initial eye flickering and knee buckling at the airport which went unnoticeable. By the end of the first day I was collapsing all over the place. I cant let Bec have all the credit for  being humorous…..cataplexy was a regular occurrence when I was with all of my trekking family.

At a guess I was having about 15-20 attacks a day…nearly all in the evening when we sat playing cards and generally having fun. In general despite my cataplexy attacks being irritating they didn’t cause too much of a problem safety wise…..until the last day that is. I think I gave my guide a fright at 1 point as I just completely collapsed in front of him right near a sheer drop into the river. The trigger was a ridiculous joke I said to myself that isn’t actually funny and is not worth writing down.


I BLOODY DID IT!!

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Big thanks to my lovely guide Ram who was an amazing support during the tough times…..suggesting best spots where I could sleep along the trek. I am definitely the first person with narcolepsy that he has ever guide but hopefully not the last.

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WHAT HELPS ME??

The main way I cope and manage is the support I receive from my family and friends. I have been thinking a lot about what is it that makes all the people in my life respond so well to my  cataplexy, sudden and often inappropriate urges to sleep or sleep attacks. Talking to my family, new and old friends I have come to the conclusion that my open and humorous response to my illness allows new and old friends to respond in a relaxed way. I want to STRESS I do not think the illness is funny….it is extremely debilitating and I would do anything to not have it, however humor is a key factor in my ability to maintain a positive attitude. I cannot afford to waste the little energy I have being upset or angry about it. I hope that other people with Narcolepsy are not offended by this as I don’t want to make light of our illness or suggest that developing such an attitude is easy. possible During my travels I have been overwhelmed by the positive support and response that I received in relation to having Narcolepsy. Of course I think people should accept anyone and everyone with any illness or disability. I would be horrified if I met people who were not supportive; but at the same time I can see how it can evoke different responses. Cataplectic attacks are often sudden, aggressive and can be scary to watch.  wake up to narcolepsy DSC02119


Narcolepsy is an invisible illness that most people have heard of but don’t actually understand it….I know I didn’t. A benefit to travelling with Narcolepsy is that it allows me to raise awareness to people from a variety of different countries, cultures and backgrounds.

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On paper you might think that a person with  a diagnosis of Narcolpesy attempting to trek to Everest Base Camp is an accident waiting to happen.sleep4       sleep3 sleep2 sleep1


HOWEVER…..with a bucket load of determination, a big sense of humor, a positive outlook, and the support from family friends I think anything is possible…….

Everest Base Camp was for me!!

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Kathmandu

Before I left for my travels most of you who know me shared your concern for my safety  – not really because of my narcolepsy or the fact that I am a solo female traveller  but more because I am ‘Grace’. I will be the first to admit that I have a long history of finding myself in one predicament or another.

To get to the point on 28th November I arrive in Delhi airport to get my flight to Kathmandu on time with my passport, tickets, accommodation and pick up from airport organised…..what else did I need…ah yes money, at the very least 100 quid for my visa fee! All I had was a misley 300 indian rupees due to misplacing my wallet and not being able to find a western union to draw money out of. I was fully aware of this on route to the airport but was hoping for some miracle.

Despite the mess I was in I was keeping it together…this didn’t last though after I was repeatedly informed that I should not get on the flight because I would  be deported back to India if unable to pay the Nepalese visa fee. This sent me over the edge and soon the tears piled in –  I could not stop them – although to be fair I didn’t try to or care what I looked like. Most of the airport was looking at me but this was no different to the last 3 months.

I was still holding out for a little miracle and  headed through to security.  Once in the departure land I felt surprisingly calm and with the incredible views of the mountain I nearly forgot about my visa issue. I was lucky to get a window seat despite my late check in….I have a feeling that the lady at the counter arranged this for me as she seemed quite concerned.

Lucky for me a miracle did happen in the form of a ginger scott named Greg who kindly paid for my visa (only a 100 dollars eh). For the millionth time….Thanks!!

As you can imagine I was pretty damn happy to be in Kathmandu and to meet Susma and Hari from Wahoe Nepal, a newly formed NGO in Nepal.

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My role was to support the team with administration tasks such as promoting the charity on social media and planning for future volunteers.

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In return I stayed in their apartment where the main office was based for a week which allowed me to spend the rest of my week exploring the many streets of the main backpacker area of Thamel and main sights in Kathmandu.

 

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Boudhanath Stupa

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My favourite place was the Boudhanath Stupa, the largest stupa in Nepal and the holiest Tibetan Buddhist temple outside Tibet. It is the center of Tibetan culture in Kathmandu and rich in Buddhist symbolism. Surrounding the Stupa are streets and narrow alleys lined with colorful homes, Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, and street vendors. I could have easily stayed here all day.

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Pashupatinath

Pashupatinath is a Hindu temple on the banks of the Bagmati River in Deopatan, a village 3 km northwest of Kathmandu. It is dedicated to a manifestation of Shiva called Pashupati (Lord of Animals). It attracts thousands of pilgrims each year and has become well known far beyond the Kathmandu Valley.

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The temple is barred to non-Hindus, but I was allowed to walk around the grounds on the banks of the Bagmati River where Hindu cremations were taking place. I was fine watching this from a distance but my guide insisted that I had a closer look.   A guide informed me that most Hindus come here to contemplate life and how they enter and leave this world with nothing. He thought of it as a peaceful place excellent for meditation.

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Swayambhunath

Swayambhunath is an ancient religious complex atop a hill in the Kathmandu Valley, west of Kathmandu city.

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It is also known as the Monkey Temple as there are holy monkeys living in the north-west parts of the temple.

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 These monkeys scared the life out of me….they were everywhere!!!

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I had a great week in Kathmandu but I must admit the highlight of my week was meeting up with Mr Langley and his lively cohort. His visit was short and sweet but we had a great evening eating, drinking and dancing the night away.

After a week the smog was really getting to me – sadly in Kathmandu the pollution is so severe that the mountains can no longer be seen. I was dying to see the mountains, so off to Pokhara I head!!

 

Heading to the hilltops!

Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, India – November 2014

My next adventure takes me further north into the mountains – I was beside myself with excitement to get close to the Himalayas despite a 12 hour bus journey ahead. The first part of the journey went smoothly as I  slept, ate biscuits, played a ridiculous addictive game on my IPad while enjoying the incredible views in awe of the bus drivers who made me feel very safe despite driving like formula 1 drivers on the windiest roads.

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After a few months in India I am now well adjusted to local bus life this includes fighting my way on to the bus and squeezing on to a seat.

Given media attention to risks of solo female travellers such as the fatal rape of a local Delhi woman, and the gang rape of a Swiss tourist I was very much aware of potential risks and to increase my safety I would wear culturally appropriate clothing, avoid walking in the dark on my own and always get a seat near the front on a bus by a female or couple where possible. This had worked well for me and I was beginning to feel quite safe and at home on these buses.

Sadly it was on this bus where I had a stark reminder of the problems solo female travelers endure in India and the inequality between men and women. Not wanting to miss out on the incredible views  I placed myself by the window next to a couple rather than the aisle seat. The man started off by being quite nice offering me some samosas which I munched on before falling asleep. After a snooze I woke up to the man staring at me……after 2 months in India it became normal to have people staring at me so I thought nothing of it. However I soon realised he was not just staring…..(I have struggled to find the right words to describe what happened next without sounding too crude but this has been an impossible task)….disturbingly the man had his penis out masturbating while staring at me. Just to remind you he was also sat next to his wife who was timidly tapping him on the shoulder muttering something in Hindi which I presume was ‘what the hell are you doing’.

Given my history of hallucinations as a result of Narcolepsy I looked for the third time  just to check, unfortunately for me I was not wrong – not wanting to get past him I stood up and started shouting to the people behind, none of whom spoke English so I then grabbed the hands of the women sat behind me and pulled them to stand up. Now the next bit is a bit of a blur…….as in seconds the bus had stopped, the guy was removed from the bus without his luggage and wife……hahahahaha.

I then had a three seater to myself and for the rest of the journey was handed a variety of delicious yummy food….not a bad deal. All jokes aside on a serious matter it was a depressing reminder of the views that some Indian men have on women and the power and inequality between men and women.  However I was comforted by the responses displayed by the bus driver and other people on the bus. In 2011 the International Centre for Research on Women published an article on Gender equality and Indian’s men Attitudes. They found that even though many Indian men support policies that promote equal opportunities for women, they also feel that they lose out if women are afforded more rights. And while they are aware of laws against violence against women, this knowledge does not always coincide with their values: 65 percent of Indian men surveyed said they believe there are times that women deserve to be beaten.

For further information read http://www.icrw.org/media/news/gender-equality-indian-mens-attitudes-complex 


After the excitement I continued to enjoy the amazing views, bearing in mind that although it has been eventful it was only 2pm and a lunch stop was due.

10690052_10154984864680637_7678746436554898521_nDue to the plethora of food given to me I was not hungry and decided to stay on the bus. In seconds I was covered in flies…. I looked around and soon noticed that everyone else  were ignoring the fly’s. To get away from the flies I dare getting out of the bus.Instead I walk around and suddenly start laughing to myself as everyone is staring at me,some more subtle than others. I am laughing cause I doubt that no one has noticed that I am wearing my top back to front and have a tag hanging out.


I finally arrive to Shimla at 9pm and go straight to sleep. Shimla is a beautiful hill stations of India which as a small, unknown village before the British discovered it in the year 1819. Around the year 1864, the British declared it the summer capital of India.  The British influence is evidence through the cathedral and council building.

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My first impression of Shimla was how clean it is…..there were lots of bins everywhere and no rubbish on the floor. This is thanks to the many rules implemented by the local police.

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The Jakhu Temple of Simla is dedicated to the monkey God, Hanuman. The Jakhu temple is located at a height of 2455 meters and is situated on the highest peak in Shimla.

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The temple has an interesting legend behind it. It is said that a deadly arrow injured Lord Rama’s brother Lakshmana when he was fighting the battle with the demon king Ravana. A priest diagnosed Lakshmana and said that he needed a particular Sanjeevani herb from the Himalayas to cure Lakshmana. Hanuman was sent to get that herb from he lofty mountains. Upon reaching the Himalayas, Hanuman couldn’t make out as to which herb was the Sanjeevani. So he dug up the entire mountain and flew back to where Lakshmana was lying injured.
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After Lakshmana was cured, Hanuman went back to place the mountain in its original site. He rested on top of the Jakhu hill for sometime. It is said that the top of the hill got flattened due to Hanuman’s weight! The temple has been built around the place that is supposed to have the footprints of Hanuman. It is a highly revered religious place of Shimla and devotees throng in huge numbers to pray.
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At the bottom of the hill there was this sign which unfortunately brought out the competitive side in me and in seconds I find myself running up this hill. I completely exhausted myself, not a great idea as is had been feeling really ill. I was chuffed with doing it in 19 minutes though.

Views from here were pretty sensational but the shrine is a hotspot for monkeys who flock here in great numbers so I had to be on monkey alert though when I was taking photos as they have been known to take such items. A local girl who had taken her shoes off to go in the temple had 1 taken by a monkey. It caused quite the commotion but 30 minutes the monkey got bored and the girl got her shoe back.

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There is lots more to see in Shimla but due to time constraints and feeling ill I missed out. From the little I did see of Shimla I loved it and will definitely be returning.