Sunday, June 30, 2013
Saturday, June 29, 2013
I'm hesitant to indiscriminately throw around the phrase Best day ever! but well, ELEPHANT BATH! Aka we did so many awesome things today and I'm super-psyched to tell you all about it!
We're in Chitwan National Park, which is about a 6-hour bus ride from Kathmandu and (after trekking) one of the main things tourists do in Nepal.
Per usual we had nothing pre-booked, and only a vague sense of how things work. We got off the bus yesterday and a guide approached us "Come with me! This taxi will take you to the center of the town and you can pick out your hotel there yourself! Yes! Yes please, good!" Ummm yes that is exactly what we want. So we found a nice, clean, well-lit room (three of our main criteria) at Hotel Orchid (if you go to Chitwan, I recommend it).
Apparently during tourist season all the hotels here are FULL, but as it has been for our entire Nepal experience, we're pretty much the only ones here.
That same guide became our fixer for the trip. And I will take this moment to strongly recommend him -- Binda of Binda's Animal Adventure, whose office is across from Sweet Memories Restaurant (get the organic coffee - french press! - and a banana honey pancake. You're welcome). Binda's office is under construction now and Sister2 and I just came up with that name for it upon request. So if you DO go to Chitwan and see it, please report back? I would be SUPER excited!
Anywho, we started this morning with a canoe ride down a river in the park. Of course there's no guarantees when seeing wildlife (recall our Bardiya experience), but even though it was raining we saw four crocodiles along our 30-minute way!
The canoe ride ended at the Elephant Breeding Center. I should pause right now to tell you that elephants are, and always have been, my favorite animals. They're big and kinda dinosaur-ish, but also super-smart and graceful. They have families and a matriarchal society and they mourn their dead. And have you seen their trunks up close? So cool!
So we watched baby elephants for a while. The mothers are used for elephant safaris and owned by the government, the fathers are wild jungle elephants, and any male babies born are given to the Nepalese army for patrolling.
AND THEN WE TOOK A BATH WITH AN ELEPHANT.
It's something they do every day at another part of the river. Trainers wash their elephants, and let tourists watch and/or join in for tips. So much fun!!! Our elephant kept sitting down, i.e. throwing us into the river, like the largest bronco ride ever.
In the afternoon the awesomeness continued with an elephant safari. We sat in a saddle/platform this time and meandered through the jungle and across a few rivers. AND WE SAW A WILD ONE-HORNED RHINO 10 FEET AWAY. (I am fully aware of my excessive use of all-caps in this post but I feel the situation deems it reasonable.)
First we saw the rhino across an open field and were pretty excited about that. Then the elephant driver kicked us into gear and we followed the rhino into the jungle. We got up parallel to it, then two other elephants (with drivers and tourists) helped us surround it. We had our doubts about the safety of this situation, as cornering an very large animal with one giant horn does not strike me as particularly advisable, but I guess an elephant trumps everything, so we were safe on it's back?
Today was much less activity-filled than yesterday, and involved a lovely quantity of reading and eating and card-playing and countryside walking. But we did the most important thing -- i.e took ANOTHER elephant bath. Because we could and therefore we should.
This time Mohammad, our elephant's driver, had us stand up on our elephant's back! Second time was just as awesome as the first well duh. I could do this every day.
The elephant bath sounds like a tourist stunt, but it's mostly not. The drivers do this regardless of audience and we sat and watched them scrub and play with their elephants for a while. (A driver is paired with his elephant for life.)
Binda explained that for about $5,000 you can own a Nepali elephant. I won't pretend I haven't considered it and/or becoming the first and only white/female elephant driver in Chitwan...
Wednesday, June 26, 2013
Pouring pouring pouring. It's monsoon in Nepal and it hasn't stopped raining all morning. We slept in to rain, and awoke to more rain. We read in bed to drip-drop-drips on our tin roof, and breakfasted to the thunder of a downpour. We played Gin as the four paths leading to our umbrella'ed table island became cobble stone-bottomed canals, and read our books watching the water fill the four-squared garden to flooding.
The power here works maybe 20%of the time, which means that dinner is romantically candle- and headlamp-lit, despite the constant deluge outside our water inside doesn't run, and the advertised wi-fi hasn't produced a glimmer of activity since we arrived.
I'm not going stir-crazy yet, but we'll see how long I last on my 9-foot diameter circular island in the storm.
We couldn't leave Bardia today because some sort of election-related Maplst civil unrest is under way, closing the roads and scaring bus drivers from their routes (as a student of armed conflict, well-aware of nepal's recent 10-year civil war, this concerns me more than just a little bit). But our tickets are booked on the 5pm A/C overnight tourist bus (after our experience getting here, the "overnight" loses its bite when combined with "A/C" and "tourist"...let's hope the bus lives up to its promised splendor) to Kathmandu tomorrow, so hopefully the roads are open then!
Tuesday, June 25, 2013
So we weighed the pros and cons as locals pushed past us onto the bus... Death trap bus? But tigers. No a/c, no reclining seats? But tigers. Sixteen hours? Rhinos too!? This is going to be incredibly miserable? RHINOS AND TIGERS!!!
Needless to say, here we sit, bracing ourselves around hairpin turns on rocky pot-holed roads through the mountains at break-neck speed, perched on a bus that may have been built in the '70s and has absolutely no suspension. The horn sounds constantly as we careen around curves, warning (?) anyone coming around the other way.
In the first three hours we got a major flat (I could hear the sharp hisssss of deflating dreams). But instead of stopping, the solution was for everyone to get back on the bus QUICK to speed to the next town (so we could fix it before it completely deflated? I have no idea...the logic on that one is beyond me). [Oh and that happened two more times throughout the night.]
On the bus with us is a young Nepali visiting home from university in Canada, who gleefully pointed out, "When I saw you two I was so surprised! I thought, wow! Caucasians?! That is unexpected on this bus!"
Yup, two of these things are not like the others. Which is fine, except that these two things are praying particularly HARD that ourselves, the bus, and everyone on it, reaches Bardiya in one piece.
At 5am were shaken awake and practically throw off the bus, "Abachar Town! Go now please! Abachar NOW!" Dazed and half-asleep we jumped off of the slowed (but still moving) vehicle. Alright here we are.
The trekker who recommended this trip to us said that there would be people waiting at the bus station to take you to their guest houses, but since we arrived 5 am on a local bus, we had our doubts...
Turns out (God bless desperate guest house proprietors) that part was 100% true! Within 5 minutes of being so rudely awoken, we were on the back of a kid's motor bike (him, Sister2, me, backpack) puttsing our way along a dirt road to his family's guest house. A little questionable...but actually not.
So we're here! And staying until we see tigers and rhinos because there is no way that 16-hour transportation experience is ok otherwise!
Monday, June 24, 2013
|The view made it worth it.|
On our way out of the town, we caught up with another group of trekkers and fell into line with them -- our first mistake. Because when you're cruising along in a group, collective wisdom (or lack thereof) kicks in, and people (me and Sister2) stop looking closely at road signs.
|The view from our window in Mukinath.|
We soon reached a spectacular pass and took some pictures that were totally worth the climb.
Then down down down we went, our quads and calfs screaming from remnants of yesterday's (and the day before's and the day before's) exertions. Sister2 and I have concluded that jogging (baby steps) downhill is equally as hard as walking but twice as fast, so we left the other white people in the dust and skittered our way down the mountain.
We were following signs to Lubra, and reached it around lunchtime. And after lunch is where true disaster struck. We left the town and started walking along the river, but we didn't see any blue trail markings, so I scampered back to ask directions to Jomsom, our day's (and trek's) destination. "Yes yes Jomsom, river." Alright, if she says so.
Uh oh, I think we're supposed to be up there? Damnit we got wrong directions!!! (This happened in India sometimes too...for inexplicable cultural reasons people would rather give wrong directions than say they don't know. And us unsuspecting tourists get screwed.)
So we backtracked to the village to ask again. This time we were pointed along a hillside trail. A trail that took us through thorn bushes, and eventually petered out into nothing. NOT AGAIN!!! At this point we were frustrated, hot, tired, had spent an hour trying to get out of this stupid village, and were threatening to punt a chicken and drop-kick a wrong-direction-giving villager at the soonest opportunity.
We saw what appeared to be the correct trail about 50 meters below us, and unwilling to backtrack again, we started slip-sliding down the steep rocky scree face.
That trail was A trail...though not really the RIGHT trail. We stood looking across the bridge and saw something that looked like the correct trail on the other side of the river far below, with our fellow trekker friends making their way along it. I'm not going to lie, at this point obscenities may or may not have been screamed into the Himalayan wind...
|Riverbed of death|
We followed our trail along the cliff for a ways, and eventually made it to the river. Phew. Home free! But soooooo not.
The river's erosion cut off the trail, so we had to take off our boots and Oregon Trail-style ford the rocky current. Final obstacle? Kind of...
And then, joy of joys, we were on the jeep road to Jomsom! And it was an epic wind tunnel! Along a sandy and rocky river between cliffs! Whose legs and faces and any and all exposed skin don't need an arduous hour of natural exfoliation?!?!
We put our heads down and hiked as fast as humanly possible through the desolate landscape, dreaming of the Snickers bars we'd splurge and treat ourselves to upon arrival in Jomsom.
We are now at our final Annapurna Circuit Trek guest house, showered, wind-burned, and ready for our early-morning flight to Pokara tomorrow.
Though the last day was far more epic than expected, trekking the Annapurna Circuit was such a fun and beautiful and amazing experience! I will blog a detailed how-to-do-it-like-we-did post soon because I now have so much wisdom to share on the trekking front, and I think everyone should try this!
Sunday, June 23, 2013
I can't say that I particularly enjoyed today, but I am glad it happened.
|Going up. Slowly slowly.|
We started our day's trek from High Camp for a brutal 2-hour 60-meter climb to Thorong La Pass -- the highest pass in the world at 5416 meters. We slowly slowly hiked through a Mars-sequences rocky landscape, with the occasional mountain peeping through the clouds.
The past two days of major elevation gain + super-thin air + burning quads + general exhaustion (we couldn't sleep last night because we were so sore/tight that our muscles see all twitchy and unable to get comfortable) made for a veeeeery slow and arduous ascent.
But at 9 am we made it to the top! Congratulations to us! We celebrated with crackers and peanut butter, basking in the glory of our own awesomeness. I'm kind of kidding, but kind of not...if trekking were a competition we would have dominated, for serious. Turns out, trekking is my (and Sister2's) jam!
|On top of Thorong Pass.|
|Heading down from the pass.|
|Oh I AM thinksing of my nutrition! Aka HUNGRY.|
|On the way into Mukinath.|
Saturday, June 22, 2013
Everyone says you should spend two nights in Manang to adjust to the altitude (the town is at 3540 meters -- 11,614 feet -- and we're about to go A LOT higher), so that's what we're doing. We opted for a day hike (no packs woooohooo!!!) to the Ice Lake, which is at 4600 meters (15,091 feet) and QUITE the vertical climb. (How do you climb the Himalayas? Slowly slowly!)
|View from our window in Manang. That is a glacier to your right, with a cloud-covered Annapurna behind it.|
|We passed through a herd of yak on our way up.|
|Coming down from Ice Lake.|
|Annapurnas, leaving Manang.|
|Leaving Manang, looking back.|
I'm sipping milk coffee (a generous description of this hot sweet beverage, but I'm not complaining) in the windowed dining room at High Camp (elevation: 4833 meters/15,856 feet), about two hours from Thorong La, the highest pass in the world. We hiked a lot today (to make tomorrow a bit easier), leaving all vegetation behind and trekking along through a moon-surface-ish landscape, if the moon had mountains.
High Camp is COLD! And not particularly nice (no running water, terrible shared toilet, dark stone room), but I can't really complain...we ARE on top of the world.
Oh and we made a friend today! His name is Tyson and he's delightfully Canadian (from Toronto). He abandoned his less-awesome companions and hiked with us all day today up to High Camp, and we're planning to do the pass together tomorrow. Go us and being social!
|We were going to climb the Himalayas, but then we though, huh, might as well just go to Mars.|
And in other news, after the hike up and down from Ice Lake yesterday, and a vertical final hour today, my quads and calfs are burning like they've never burned before. I think a foam roller would make me cry right now.
It's 8:30 pm and I'm freezing. Aka bed time. Pass day tomorrow!