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, I applied to the Peace Corps in 1990.  Just after the fall of the Iron Curtain, I was sent to Hungary where 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 for four years 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 due to illness(!).  I interviewed with six other international schools.  Each one offered me a job on the spot!  In 1997, I moved to Spain where I taught English as a Second Language at the American School of Madrid. I loved Spain, the city of Madrid, my school and my students, although my heart was still in Nepal.  The following year I quit my job and, with a friend, we flew to Kathmandu.

The capital city had changed so much since I had been 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 - too much traffic.  The tourist area had doubled in size. The culture and traditions I had experienced in the 80s were 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, in 2000 I started my company, Of Global Interest LLC Adventure Travel.  Over the next many years, I shared my experience by organizing and leading tours to Nepal twice a year.  Most trips included trekking to Mt. 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, became the first cancer survivor to climb Mt. Everest.

 

As part of my travel business, I opened a (one room!) bed and breakfast in my home in 1999.  I called it 'The Trekkers Lodge' (8 years before Airbnb!).  I met travelers from around the world - right in my living room - daily!  I sold imports from Nepal in my garage mainly at Christmas time when it was cold and snowy.  I called my store 'The Himalayan Bazaar in my Garage'.

In 2011, after many years working with my Nepalese business partner,  Pem Dorjee Sherpa (a two-time Everest climber himself!), we 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 30+ years of hand-written travel journals. Pem has since opened a Nepalese restaurant in Ann Arbor, Everest Sherpa Restaurant.  We continue to work together to promote travel and Nepal and to educate about the world, its people, cultures, traditions and adventure!

Throughout my years as a travel professional, I maintained my Wilderness First Responder (WFR) certification.  I passed the Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) course in 2010 and was certified as an EMT for a year.  Over a decade of practical experience leading tours at altitude in the high Himalayas has expanded my interest in wilderness medicine.

In more recent times, I've added Peru as a destination.  My itineraries come to life with help from well established tour operators 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, singing bowl concerts, Himalayan Festivals and Wellness Retreats. I enjoy sharing the positive, healing vibrations of the singing bowls, a relaxing form of meditation.  I also love sharing the classic Nepalese Bicycle Rickshaw I imported 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].

 

In addition to hosting guests and leading tours, I have been the Chime Master (Bell Lady) at Kerrytown Market and Shops since 2000.  I manage the Kerrytown Chime, a world-class, 7-ton instrument, 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.  Choose from over 200 songs written by number.  There are 17 bells in the tower.  The largest bell is 700 pounds, the smallest 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 open anytime for visitors.  I plan and organize a few annual events 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 (10)!  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), we recently inherited from downsizing in-laws. The house is full.

Today I continue to travel when I can.  Although hard to leave my family, they are supportive!  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.  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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