Tricked Into Nepal?

Tricked Into Nepal?

By Oliver di Costanzo

Patrick seeing his first sunrise in the Himalayas
SourcePhoto by Oliver di Costanzo


There are worse places to get kidnapped to than Kathmandu.

By Oliver di Costanzo

“So, when do you want to go to jail?”

My friend Patrick was asked this question on Oct. 30, 2016, at his one-year probation hearing, void of any context or explanation. At that time, Patrick had faithfully — or so he thought — completed his initial jail sentence, plus 12-month probation and counseling obligations following a felony drug possession without intent to sell.

Patrick was shocked by the question though, even while it slowly dawned on him why he was being asked to contemplate a return to prison. He’d had one tiny slip-up during probation, because of a phone call he’d had with me and our friend Max. The tragic irony of it all was we had been discussing traveling together post-probation — at a moment when Patrick should have been conducting his daily phone session with a drug counselor.

This missed call meant a missed drug test, which equates to a failed drug test in the state of Nevada. So, Patrick was back on probation, and going nowhere, for another year.

“Is that guy naked?” and then “What’s that fire for?” and finally: “Is that man pooping on that fire?” 

Reminiscing later over beers, Max and I discussed flying Patrick to Nepal after the completion of his second year of probation. Could we pull off buying Patrick a ticket to Kathmandu, convincing him to get a passport — it would be his first trip out of the country — by disguising the travel as a long weekend in Canada? We decided to keep the details to a minimum. “We’re going to Canada; pack light,” was what we offered.

Unbeknownst to me though, Max had told Eric, another friend of ours, about the plan to celebrate by tricking Patrick into a trip to Nepal, and Eric’s response was immediate: “I want in.” Max knew that Eric often expressed enthusiasm for joining our big trips but something always prevented him from coming. Max shrugged off Eric’s response and sent him the itinerary anyway. Within minutes, Eric booked tickets for himself. Together, the two of them decided they would tell neither Patrick nor me — me, the person who prides himself on orchestrating surprises. 


After evading questions about the trip to “Canada” with Patrick and coordinating with Eric, Max was so close to pulling the whole thing off. He knew I was waiting patiently in Kathmandu. He arranged for Eric to drive him and Patrick to the San Francisco International Airport, knowing that Eric would then park his car and board another flight, one that would have an overlapping layover in China.

He guided Patrick to the check-in desk for their flight to “Calgary.” It wasn’t until the tickets were handed over that Patrick heard where he was really headed. “Final destination, Kathmandu,” the ticket-counter clerk said. Patrick answered with a chill but bewildered “What? Where are we going?” And then, classically: “I should probably call my mom.”

Patrick, bleary from more than 24 hours in transit, stumbled out for his final layover, this one in the Kunming, China, airport. He looked across the terminal to see Eric waving at him. “Is that fucking Eric?”

I got to the Kathmandu airport early so I could take my spot in the throng of taxi drivers outside the terminal. A good half-foot taller than many of them, I tried to blend in with a surgical face mask, common in these parts, and a scarf, holding out a sign that said McKeon, Patrick’s last name.


From left: Max, Eric, Patrick and Ollie in Nepal.

Source Photo courtesy of Oliver di Costanzo

Finally, Max bounded out to find me, a minute or two ahead of Patrick and Eric. We hugged briefly, nervous and excited. Patrick was out next. When he got close enough, I grabbed him. But then Eric emerged, stepping up to and surprising me, even while I was still hugging Patrick. “Everyone got got!” Max yelled.

I flagged down one of the cabs and haggled in Nepali. I happened to catch a glimpse of Patrick, who was trying to make sense of it all. After we crammed into the tiny taxi, he looked over at a man on the side of the road.

“Is that guy naked?” and then “What’s that fire for?” and finally: “Is that man pooping on that fire?” 

After only 24 hours in Nepal, it was time for Patrick’s next big milestone: learning how to ride a motorcycle. Yes, traffic in Kathmandu is a laneless, lawless form of madness, but we all had faith in him, especially after he had shared his new mantra with us: “Turn off your brain and make it happen.” Predictably enough, he stalled out countless times, got sideswiped and had to swerve to avoid near collisions. Soon enough, though, he was yelling over his shoulder: “Why have I waited so long to learn this?”  

But later when we were descending a hill on a winding road, Patrick, with way too much speed, panicked and stomped on the back brake, skidding, shooting over to the other side of the road, hitting dirt and flying off the bike to land in a bush a few feet away. We did the only sensible thing to do: ran over and cheered him on through this new rite of passage. I’ve never felt closer to my friends than I did at that moment, dirt and exhaust rising in clouds around us, Patrick only slightly bruised.

On the fourth day in Nepal and our second day on the bikes, we were on our way to a house owned by a family I once stayed with in Kathmandu. The place is part of a charitable foundation called “Her Farm” deep in the foothills. After 45 minutes of intermittently crashing the bikes and riding through switchbacks of dirt and mud, we made it to the top of the hill. Behind us was the sunset: Orange, pink and red streamed through the mountains — the Himalayas, massive and beautiful.

“AAAAHHHHH!!!” Patrick was ripping off his jacket, screaming into the valley below. The only thing to do was to join in.

A couple of months later, I asked Patrick what the trip had meant to him. “The biggest change? I had a habit of always asking myself ‘why?’ about the past. Now I find myself asking myself ‘what?’ about the future.”