Archive | September, 2012

The Nature Walk from Hell

29 Sep

*Note: this blog post contains foul language, for which I apologize.  It was used in an extraordinary situation, and I certainly don’t mean to offend.*

Now is time to discuss my really stressful day in the jungle.  It started with a terrifying canoe ride… through crocodile-infested waters.  I started really stressing out about 1 minute into the boat ride, when I absent-mindedly touched my hand to the water.  The guide said, “don’t do that; crocodiles come.”  Are you sh*tting me right now?

I became increasingly alarmed when we started seeing crocodiles:

These crocodiles — gharials — are essentially unchanged for the past 110 million years.

Finally, we disembarked the canoe… and walked into the jungle.  And things got worse.

Let’s back up.  Chitwan — being in the lawless, crazy, government-less country of Nepal — is one of the very few wildlife parks in the world that you can explore on foot, when accompanied by a guide.  My Lonely Planet recommended the jungle walk for only the bravest of the brave, saying “jungle walks are a real risk” and that while “most people have a good experience . . . there’s a small but significant risk, such as being chased by a rhino, which seems a lot less funny when you consider the phrase ‘trampled to death.’”  The guide book also said that there must be 2 guides at all times, that larger groups are safer, and that you must be especially careful during times of the year when mothers are with young.

After reading this, I decided I did not want to go on a jungle walk, and I so informed our hotel guide.  He said “no problem; we go on nature walk after canoe ride.”  Okay, fine.

So I get off the canoe, and we walk into the jungle for our “nature walk,” and we come across a freaking rhino print:

For the second time in 1 hour: Are you sh*tting me right now?

I look around.  There are 5 of us (so much for large groups).  We have 1 guide, who is carrying a 4-foot bamboo stick for protection.  And it’s late September so all of the wild animals have couple-month-old babies with them.  For the third time: Are you sh*tting me right now?  

I rack my brain trying to remember the “jungle survival tips” from my guide book:

  • Rhino: Run in zig zag line.  Climb a large tree (it will knock down small ones).
  • Sloth Bear:  The most feared animal in the jungle due to its unpredictable temperament.  Stay perfectly still and huddle to appear more threatening.
  • Elephant: Run for dear life.
  • Tiger/Leopard: Don’t move.  Maybe climb a small tree (it will climb a big tree after you).

At this point, every noise, including the tiniest twig snapping, is making my heart race.  The guide creeps ahead and peers around the next bush, and then motions for the group to follow.  This pattern continues.  Note his 4-foot bamboo stick for protection:

The guide looks for rhinos and other wild jungle animals around the next bush.  I take this picture in an attempt to remain calm and pretend that this is fun.

I am spooked by some deer but try to remain calm.  And then there is a freaking roar from a bush.  I jump out of my skin.  The guide motions for us to be quiet.  I start shaking.  The guide whispers “sloth bear.”  I go ape shit.

He has us all hurry past the bush to a small clearing, at which point I look him straight in the eye and say, “fuck you; take me out of this jungle right now.”  He mumbles something.  I bluntly express my feeling that I have been misled about the nature of this nature walk.  Timmy unwisely pipes up.  I say, “fuck you, too, Timmy.”

And the story is (thankfully) pretty anticlimactic after that.  I make it out of the jungle safely, albeit after encountering “2 fighting elephants” (says the guide; I try not to look) on the way out.

The next morning at 7:00 AM, still not having seen an endangered One-Horned Indian Rhino, which apparently every tourist absolutely must see before leaving Chitwan, I found myself part of another elephant safari brigade:

I sent this photo to my Dad with the subject “Ridiculousness.” He wrote back: “What do you mean?  Looks like a 4-ship of fighter aircraft in line abreast formation going full afterburner to the merge.”

And what do you know…

So we chase him down.

And all is good.  We can now leave Chitwan happy.

Welcome to the Jungle

29 Sep

After an epic bus ride, Timmy and I arrived at Chitwan National Park in south central Nepal.  Despite a troubled history of poaching and human encroachment, Chitwan is one of Asia’s best spots for wildlife viewing.  Among other species, it is home to royal bengal tigers, spotted leopards, sloth bears, and two famous endangered species: the one-horned rhinoceros and the gharial crocodile.

It is also home to the indigenous Tharu people:

Tharu village homes.

Made of bamboo sticks plastered with a mixture of clay and cow dung.

The first jungle activity on tap was the elephant safari.  Our elephant had a name that sounded, to me, like “Choc-o-lee.”

Choc-o-lee pictured with his mahout.

Crossing the water on Choc-o-lee.

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Lucie & Timmy Take Nepal

28 Sep

I’ve had a harrowing few days.  It will require a few posts.  But first things first.  My law school classmate Timmy got back to Kathmandu, after completing a trek to Everest Base Camp.  Rosy-cheeked, wide-grinned, and garrulous (and reading this blog!), he is also the uber-tourist (read: the opposite of Rosie the roommate).  Needless to say, my life took a 180-degree turn upon our union in KTM.

Lucie and Timmy meet up.

RANDOM. This headlamp has been the I use it all the time (because the power is always going out).

The tika on our foreheads is a Hindu thing.

Within hours, I was in the most touristy restaurant in Kathmandu.  During dinner, we were treated to some “cultural dances” (a.k.a., in my opinion, dances invented for the tourists).  One such dance, I kid you not, involved a person dressed as an evil-looking peacock pecking at your head until you gave it money.

Shout out to Ralph the anesthesiologist, pictured getting money for the evil peacock.Can you believe this thing?

We ate more dal bhat, of which I have officially grown tired.

Early the next morning, we got on the tourist bus to Chitwan National Park, one of the great South Asian jungles.  Due to some traffic jams (we think a bus crashed :-(), the 90-mile journey took 8 1/2 hours.  Some highlights:

  • I lost my face mask so I had to improvise:

    I got some stares.

  • The Hindu bus driver was wearing a hat that said “JESUS: ETERNAL LIFE.”  I’m pretty sure he thought Jesus was a place.
  • I’m also pretty sure the woman in front of me had tuberculosis.  She, rather loudly, hacked up half a lung in transit.
  • The bus was full.  3 people sat in the aisle, 1 person sat (practically) in the driver’s lap, and the last 2 people had to ride on the roof:

This is not a joke. They spent 8+ hours up there.

And this was all BEFORE we made it to Chitwan, the jungle.  Stay tuned!

Electrical Wiring and Trash Collection in Kathmandu

24 Sep

On account of the good internet connection at this cafe, I will post something a little lighter to round out the day.

When walking in Kathmandu, it’s important to watch out for, among other things, falling electrical wires and spontanenous trash dumps.  For instance, here’s what I captured today on my walk around my neighborhood:

Look, I found Carrie Underwood here.

Also, people (including me) just throw their trash on the street.

In the past, foreign donors/NGOs have bought trash cans, but people steal them and/or repurpose them.  So many street corners just look like this:

Happy Birthday, Me.

24 Sep

!.! I’m 27 years old .!.  And feeling all the usual birthday emotions (at least the ones I’ve been experiencing in my twenties)… you know, when you feel everything and nothing, all in the same moment.

Me exactly one year ago.

Me now. Where is my life going.?.

I’m halfway around the world in a very strange place.  Not a soul here knows it’s my birthday.  I’m getting old(er).  I have no plans.  I don’t really know what I’m doing here.  And for that matter, I don’t know what I’m doing for the next hour, day, week, month, year, or decade of my life.  I feel everything, and I feel nothing.  But more the nothing part.

I suppose it’s all normal.  I guess if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past 27 years is that we’re all bozos on the bus of the life.  We don’t have it all figured out; we aren’t as perfect as we wish others to perceive us.  We’re all bozos sitting on a bus together pretending not to be bozos.  And thinking there’s something wrong with us because we’re seemingly the only bozo.  The truth is, we all:

  • have bumbling, bad-tempered shadow selves.
  • can be jerks.
  • do unkind things, harbor unmerciful thoughts, and mope around when we shouldn’t.
  • wish we could change things about ourselves.
  • wonder if life has meaning, fret over things we can’t control, and sometimes long for that which we can’t name.

So let’s just peel off the layers, and parade around in our undies.  I’m starting with this blog — where I hope to share the simple dignity of myself as I stumble through this adventure — my triumphs and my failures, my satisfaction and my sorrow.  The home runs I hit, and the times I strike out (looking).  Life is freaking complicated.  Right now it’s all just a giant whirl, and I can’t make heads or tails of it.  I want to laugh, and I want to scream.  But my eyes just well with tears.

I’m just another bozo on the bus :-).

I guess, if you want, feel free to put down your burdens of hiding too, plop on your clown hat, and let’s ride this dang bus together.  In the words of some dude named Wavy Gravy, whose quote inspired this post: “We’re all bozos on the bus, so we might as well sit back and enjoy the ride.”  And hopefully we won’t topple off a cliff.

Coda: I’ll find my wings soon!  In the meantime, my birthday wish for myself: may the coming year bring sweet surprises, and may I be blessed with luck, love, and a whole lot of joy.

One Heck of a Bridge

23 Sep

As mentioned previously, my tent at the adventure camp on the Tibetan border was accessible only by this vertiginous suspension footbridge over a 200 meter gorge:

Built in 1999, it is the longest suspension bridge in the world (166 meters) and one of highest (200 meters).  I’m telling you, don’t look down!
Some of my crazy fellow travelers bungy jumped from the bridge.  And indeed it may be the most spectacular bungy anywhere: 160 meters high, overlooking the mighty Bhote Koshi River, and featuring the longest freefall of any bungy in the world (a full 8 seconds).  Unfortunately, there wasn’t a great viewing platform on my side of the bridge (and heck if I was going to cross it absent necessity), but here’s what I was able to capture:

l really liked my time here.   It included a strenuous hike climbing a Himalayan mountain with a Nepalese guide and a Danish couple.  I kept stopping under the ruse that I wanted to take photos (but really just so I could take a breather; it was so hard!).  Here’s what I snapped under false pretenses:

The (Murderous) Road to Tibet

22 Sep

I spent the past few days sleeping in a tent at an adventure camp on the Tibetan border.  In the course of two days, I had the top four scariest experiences of my life, namely:

From the bus: my first view of the Himalayas!

Let’s start with the bus ride.  It was terrifying.  The past few weeks, when reading the Nepalese newspaper, I wondered why the words “bus crash” and “deaths” appeared… everyday.  And, not infrequently, the word “tourists.”  I was like, “wtf, what’s up with all the buses crashing?”  I now understand.  Here are a few details:

  • Our bus was right out of Wayne’s World.  I’m pretty sure it’s been to Woodstock.  And I guarantee you it hasn’t had an annual inspection for the last 40 years.  The brakes did not squeak; there was serious grinding involved.

  • Nepal is the land of the Himalayas, the result of the tectonic collision of the Indian subcontinent and the Eurasian continent, which started in the Paleogene time and continues today.  This collision has slowly driven the mountains up and the rivers down, creating the highest mountains in the world, which fall into impossibly steep valleys.  Along these mountain cliffs run what you could generously call “roads.”

The terrain. Note the roads carved into these mountains.

  • These roads are five feet wide and made of dirt/mud/rocks.
  • I read in my Lonely Planet on the way that this road used to be an important trade route from India to Tibet, but it fell out of use because of… the danger of landslides.  Immediately I called my Dad to make sure he knew that my travel insurance covers repatriation of my remains.
  • All of us backpackers on the bus were freaking scared to death.  We collectively held our breaths as our bus shimmied across the narrow mountain passes and over Neanderthal bridges, speculating as to how many of us would die if we crashed at any given point (99% of the time the answer was “all of us”).
  • At the beginning of the drive, when the cliffs weren’t so high, we tried to jam open the windows so that if we crashed into water at least some of us might, conceivably, be able to escape the sinking bus.

We stopped for breakfast along the way.

  • But then the cliffs got high.  So high.  The French banker on the window side would scream out the amount of clearance over the narrowest of pathways, which were washed away by the monsoon season.  The rocks would crumble off our tires and fall down several hundred meter gorges as he would yell, “Ten centimeters, ten f*cking centimeters!”
  • My eyes, meanwhile, were glued on our 12-year-old driver, who was just hemming around the twisty-turny corners, incessantly honking the horn in case, heaven forbid, another vehicle was coming the other way.  “We’ve got time, dude!” I yelled from the back.  “No rush, brother!”
  • British girl Laura drove her fingernails into her boyfriend Will’s knees while biting her lip bloody.
  • At the height of which, behind me piped up the Argentine, Mattias, who had spent the last three months finding “his truth” in India.  He asks me, “do you believe in reincarnation?”  I stared back at him with furrowed brow.  He says, “All you can do is live the best life you can.  If you die, you will just be reincarnated into the next life.”  I said nothing.  He continued, in broken and accented English, “if you die in a state of fear, your next life will be a fearful one.  If you die in a state of peace, you will be reincarnated into a state of peace.”  I remained silent.  British Laura goes, “well that’s a vicious f*cking cycle.”
  • At which point I turned around, put on my headphones, and listened to power ballads.

At the breakfast stop, I snapped this picture. This is how roofs are secured in Nepal.

  • Our bus stopped exactly 12 times at police checkpoints, where machine-gun-toting Nepali policemen walked up and down the aisle of our bus making sure we weren’t smuggling “red wood or cash” into Tibet (according to our driver, that’s what is being smuggled these days).  I also think it was highly possible that we were paying off the policemen due to the suspicious way we would dispatch a teenager at each stop to run around to the blind side of the bus.
  • When we left Kathmandu, we were told the bus ride would take 2 hours.  At 3 different points, we were informed, “five minute more, five minute more.”  Somewhere past the 5 hour mark, sweaty, uncomfortable, and scared to death, we lumbered to a stop.  And then we saw the suspension bridge we had to cross by foot to get to our tents.  [Cliffhanger until the next post.  But see the teaser picture below.]

See the suspension bridge?!