I sat in the garden of Kathmandu Guest House at a dark 5:30am and watched the hotel slowly wake up. I'd been in self isolation for a week so had quickly snapped up an invite to join Jen the "trek mum" for safari action in Chitwan National Park. Anyone who's ever been to Nepal raves about it so it seemed rude not to! In true Kathmandu style we were loaded onto an unlabelled bus with zero explanation and sent on our way. Hopefully in the right direction!
Kathmandu is HUGE. But once you leave it quickly transforms into steep forested hills and river valleys. The mountain road was bumpy. Very VERY bumpy. But it remained interesting enough for at least the first few hours. The road etiquette providing endless entertainment as we would get overtaken by another bus... which was simultaneously being overtaken by another bus... into oncoming traffic... on a cliff. Good times!
Unfortunately the novelty eventually wore off as our "three to four hour bus journey" took seven. Our bodies giving into the endless bumping and flopping around like puppets. Buying a coffee without a lid was a terrible life choice. I threw it all over myself and burnt my arm. Ooph this safari better be worth it!
We got told to change bus. No idea why. But at least this one had equally as confused tourists on it. We were dropped in a carpark in Chitwan and swarmed by people offering us safaris and leaflets for hotels. Jen stood her ground and taught me a few tricks. Don't reveal your name. Because the person collecting you should know your name. And as I learnt the hard way, don't reveal the location. When I corrected someone by shouting "nah, Rainbow Safari!" we were freshly swarmed again. After a bit more confusion, we were thrown in a jeep. Probably the correct one!?
Only time for a speed paint of the hotel this time. Donated to the owner.
That evening we met our guide and went for a walk along the river where we saw endangered fish-eating crocodiles and much more dangerous man eating crocodiles. A funky plant that folds up when you touch it (like avatar!) and eventually a rhino having a bath! I really wanted to enjoy it but by this point either the lack of sleep, isolation or altitude sickness drama had caught up with me and I felt completely flat. I also didn't really enjoy the hoards of people following the rhino just trying to mind his own business. It's a catch 22 because I love safari but don't like the human element... of which I'm blatantly a part of. Argh!
After dinner I went to the local dance show which was an unexpected riot. Essentially Nepalese Morris dancing. Then someone in a mad peacock costume. The fire poi came out. Then half the town got on stage and hand a good ol' dance about. People of all ages all getting stuck in. Such good fun. I also took a moment to acknowledge how safe I felt being solo in a strange place. I'd met the other tourists on the tour. We all sat together. But in that moment I didn't really know anyone for miles and felt completely at ease.
Our room for the night was pretty entertaining. The bed and pillow were rock hard so I "borrowed" a cushion from a store room next door. Only one bed had a mosquito net so you had to choose who would be sacrificed to nature. The light switches were falling apart so you had to put your hand INSIDE the wall with all the wiring. My personal highlight being a ceiling fan with six settings. Off, off, off, off, off and FULL BLOWN TORNADO IN YOUR BEDROOM! That night was effectively sleepless as it was too hot to go without the fan, but with it turned on, I may as well have been sleeping open-air on top of a mountain!
As the sun rose the following morning, we were jeeped through town to some canoes. Surprisingly wobbly things that felt like they'd dump us in the river if someone so much as sneezed. Crocodiles lined the banks, ready to eat us for breakfast.
We mostly saw birds. Some brilliant blue kingfishers and peacocks in their natural environment which was pretty crazy. They stood out like sore thumbs so how they don't get immediately eaten is beyond me. Maybe they just taste crap!? It wasn't the most adrenaline filled safari experience but it was a welcome calm after the brutal bus journey the day before.
Then we went for a walk where leeches CONSTANTLY tried to wriggle up our trouser legs. I'd later find one in my underwear which luckily didn't bite me anywhere too important! We saw some cool spiders. One the size of my hand. One little spikey guy. And some impressive butterflies. But generally I found myself suffering from low mood again. The space between spotting wildlife leaving me lots of time to feel the feels.
Next was the Jeep Safari, by which point I was fairly done. Four hours of driving down gravel tracks between tall tall grasses. Some had seven metres of animal hiding ability! It was a nice chance to have some deep chats with Jen and the ride was at least comfortable and mindful but the wildlife was few and far between. It made me realise just how spoilt I am since cycling to the Ngorongoro Crater. That place was the Lion King on crack and it would never be beat! We still had a few nice moments with rhinos, some monkeys and a crocodile rehabilitation centre.
Later a rhino blocked the road which was pretty funny but I found myself winding down the day with feelings of sadness. A combination of losing out on my Everest Base Camp trek, a week of isolation and a long summer of nomadic living all being a bit too much to handle. Not surprising really! It was definitely one of those moments where you need to give yourself permission not to be OK. My expectations for Chitwan were super high, but I could only feel how I felt at the time and knew that it would eventually pass.
The bus home was a nice reminder that the Universe is still very much on my side, even if it does have a cheeky sense of humour. The passenger behind me immediately started playing videos and receiving heaps of loud email alerts. Then as we started moving, the window squeaked and squeaked and squeaked. "Past me" would have reluctantly put up with it but sod that. I moved across the bus to avoid both and within minutes the bus operator came over and told me to sit WITH the guy I'd been avoiding! On an almost empty bus! I had to see the funny side. Touché Universe.
Contrary to my initial judgements, Pierre the bus friend turned out to be really nice and massively took the edge off what eventually turned into another seven hour journey. He talked and talked about his travelling experiences. At one point updating me on American politics despite telling him I preferred to avoid the news. He told me all about a comedian doing Mike Tyson impressions in front of Mike Tyson, who apparently loves pigeons. How the King of Thailand wears a G-string... I was really happy to have him chat away and eventually drifted into a brilliant nap.
Arriving in Kathmandu we teamed up to battle the rush hour traffic. Saying goodbye at Thamel, his parting wisdom being that my time in the Himalayas wasn't the end of something. More the start of endless other possibilities. I'll take that :) I wandered my way back to the hotel with my head held high.
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