Heather O'Neal

I grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan where I live today.

 

In 1986 while a student at the University of Wisconsin, I spent my Junior Year Abroad in Kathmandu, Nepal.  I fell in love with the Nepalese people, the city of Kathmandu, the culture, the Himalayas and all aspects of my new home there.  I did not want to return to the USA - but I did - in order to complete my education.  I graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1989 with degrees in English and South Asian Studies.

While living in Kathmandu that year, I kept a detailed journal, now self-published as:  "Writes of Passage Through Nepal".

 

In hopes of returning to Nepal, I applied to the Peace Corps.  In 1990, just after the fall of the Iron Curtain, I was instead sent to Hungary.  I spent two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer teaching English and learning Hungarian in the northern town of Salgótarján.  After my service in 1992, I enrolled in the Returned Peace Corps Fellows Program, a scholarship, where I taught English as a second language (ESL) at a middle school on the border of Mexico - while also completing a Masters Degree in Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of Texas at El Paso.

 

In hopes of teaching at the American School in Kathmandu, I attended an international job fair in California in 1996.  When I got there, I learned the representative from Nepal had canceled his visit due to illness(!).  I interviewed with six other international schools.  Each one offered me a job on the spot!  I said 'yes' to Spain.  In 1997, I moved to Madrid where I taught English as a Second Language at the American School.  I loved Spain, the city of Madrid, my school and all my students - although my heart was still in Nepal.  The following year I quit my teaching job and, with a friend, we flew to Kathmandu.

The capital city had changed so much since I had lived there - 12 years earlier!  The town was nearly unrecognizable.  Walking through the streets, I easily became lost.  My quaint and quiet Kathmandu had become a busy, noisy, polluted place - way too much traffic.  The tourist area had doubled in size. The culture and traditions I had experienced in the 80s seemed forgotten or less important.  Now there were so many cars, busses and motorcycles.  All the new, modern amenities like computers and cell phones were distracting.  Even western clothing had taken over.

 

In order to keep up and keep current with the Nepal I knew back in the 80s, I started my company, Of Global Interest LLC Adventure Travel.  Over the past many years, I have been sharing my experience by organizing and leading tours to Nepal.  From 2000 to 2011, I regularly traveled there, twice a year.  Most trips included trekking to Everest Base Camp at 17,600 ft.  One year, 2002, involved a Mt. Everest expedition.  While at Base Camp, I listened over the radio as our climber, Sean Swarner said, "I'm on top of the world!"  Sean became the first cancer survivor to climb Mt. Everest.

 

Back in Ann Arbor, as part of my travel business, I opened a one-room bed and breakfast in my home.  I called it 'The Trekkers Lodge'.  (This was 8 years before Airbnb.)  I met travelers from around the world - right in my living room - daily!  During those many years, I sold imports from Nepal at Christmas time when it was cold and snowy outside at 'The Himalayan Bazaar in my Garage'.

In 2011, my Nepalese business partner,  Pem Dorjee Sherpa moved to Ann Arbor.  Pem is a two-time Everest climber and the record holder of the world's highest wedding.  In 2005, Pem and his wife, Moni, were married at 29,028 feet on the summit of Mt. Everest!

 

Pem and I joined forces in Michigan and moved The Himalayan Bazaar from my garage to Main Street in downtown Ann Arbor.  Although still supportive, I left the store in 2019 to pursue other creative projects, including my art and typing up many years of travel journals. Pem has since opened a Nepalese restaurant in Ann Arbor, Everest Sherpa Restaurant.  Pem and I continue to work together to promote Nepal and adventure travel.

 

As a former teacher now outside the four walls of my classroom, I want to educate Americans about the world, its people, cultures and traditions.

During the heyday of my travel career, I maintained a Wilderness First Responder (WFR) certification. I later took an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) course and was certified as an EMT for a year. While leading tours at altitude in the high Himalayas for over a decade, I've developed an interest in wilderness medicine.

In recent times, I've added Peru as a destination.  My itineraries come to life with help from well established tour operators (and friends) in both Nepal and Peru who direct logistics on the ground and offer support so we can make the most of our travel time and travel dollars!

 

In 2012, my B&B became The Himalayan Lodge, a short term vacation rental home near downtown Ann Arbor.  I continue to share my house with guests and occasionally host events, including movie-nights, happy hours, dinner parties and singing bowl concerts.

 

I love sharing the positive, healing vibrations of the singing bowls, a form of meditation.  I also love riding my Nepalese Bicycle Rickshaw which came from the streets of Kathmandu to the streets of Ann Arbor!  It's the only one of its kind in North America [as far as I know].

 

Since 2000, I have been the Chime Master (Bell Lady) at Kerrytown Market and Shops in Ann Arbor.  I manage the Kerrytown Chime, a world-class, 7-ton instrument.  It is a small bell tower that is open for the public to play!  Our weekly concerts are Wednesdays and Fridays at noon and Saturdays at 10:30am.  Bell players can choose from over 200 songs written by number.  There are 17 bells in the tower.  The largest is 700 pounds, the smallest bell is 35 pounds. The Kerrytown Chime can be heard up to 3-4 blocks away!  It's easy to play songs - free and fun for all ages!

 

In 2017, I became the 'Kerrytown Ambassador' at Kerrytown Market and Shops.  I help with the occasional tour group, greeting and showing people around.  I offer historic tours of Kerrytown and its many interesting features, including the Kerrytown Chime - which can be opened anytime for visitors.  I plan and organize a few annual events at Kerrytown such as a Valentines Card Making Workshop in February, the Leprechaun Parade in March and a Halloween Parade in October.

Most proudly, I am a mom!  I live in Ann Arbor with my wonderful husband and our amazing son (11)!  Our dog, Khumbu, was born in Lukla in Nepal at 9,500 feet.  As a puppy in 2009 he came home with me to Michigan (five flights!).  We later acquired another rescue dog with a Spanish name, Paquito, who came to us from an overcrowded shelter in Chicago by way of Sasha Farm in Manchester, Michigan. Our third dog - a 70 pound English Fox Hound (mix), has come to us from downsizing family members. The house is full.

Today I continue to travel when I can.  Although it's very hard to leave my family!  Traveling with my son is my greatest joy!!!  I am lucky to have seen and experienced so much of the world and want to share the joys of travel with others.  And I also know there is so much more to explore!

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Kathmandu
Syambunath, Kathmandu, Nepal
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Nepal IMG_7470.jpeg
         Everest Base Camp April 2018                                Machu Picchu, Peru April 2019                                     Nepal 1986
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