Our Jeep rounded the corner to the sound of intense screaming and shouting. It was pitch black on the jungle road and as the driver switched off the engine and the lights, – the most obvious thing to do in the dark? – all I could think was that someone was being malled by a Godzilla sized tiger. After switching the engine back on and pulling forward cautiously, my fears were lifted just slightly, by the sight of around 30 local Nepalese, running and shouting in the direction of a very large and very wild elephant. Holy shit balls.
It was an interesting introduction to Bardiya National Park, I’ll tell you that much. We’d got a bus from Tansen to the entrance of the park and had been picked up by the Jeep to get us the 13km in, to Jungle Heaven, Krishna’s amazing jungle retreat.
Apparently the wild elephants can wander in to the village every now and then and the sight we’d seen was totally normal. The locals just make lots of noise and make themselves seem bigger and more threatening to ward the elephant away from their crops. No biggie.
We booked on to a jungle safari walking tour. That’s right, we were opting at our own will to walk, on foot, into a jungle that is home to elephants, rhino, crocodiles and tigers. I mean, we had two guides with us so we would be fine, right? Oh wait, the two guides were 22 and had only given all of us a bamboo stick for protection. I’m sure tigers are terrified of bamboo, so there was no need to worry. What am I doing?!
The whole thing was fantastic. I was terrified the entire time, but it truly was awesome. Right at the start we were given the low down on what we should do if we encounter certain animals, and now I’m going to give that to you, should you, dear reader, ever find yourself walking off into the danger zone;
- Elephant – make yourself big, make yourself loud, you are the boss, my friend.
- Rhino – run away. But run in a zig-zag pattern and throw an item of clothing in the opposite direction to throw it off your scent.
- Tiger – don’t break eye contact and slowly, slowly back away.
Right, so zig-zag running and no eye contact and, wait, yes eye contact? And throw clothes. Okay so naked running and shouting with eyes closed and open. Got it.
Side note – Don’t take any of my advice on this. Please google. Or in fact, only venture in to the jungle with an experienced guide! Or read this Daily Mail article.
Around 4 hours of walking through the jungle, the allusive tiger was nowhere to be seen. I’ll admit I’m a little sad but also very relived we didn’t cross paths. I think I may have peed myself. Seeing the sheer size of a tiger paw print that had been made a mere 3 hours before was enough to give me the chills. We did however, see a rhino. A beautiful, wild and totally free, ginormous grey rhino. It was amazing and such a rare sight to see such creatures in their real and natural environment. Where they should be.
I need to go back. The jungle is an insane place. I mean, I walked through a river that very likely had crocodiles in, I walked through grass higher than me that could of had anything in. I sat on leaves in the middle of thick trees to enjoy my lunch, I pulled leeches off my skin and toes. I walked, head on into tiger territory and I loved it. Every heart-pumping, nail biting second.
Just call me jungle queen.
I’m not sure where they came from, but all of a sudden there was another bike with two young locals right in front of us. We broke, but not enough, and BANG. Hello blood and bye bye knee cap.
I had a massage. In Thailand. It was a coconut oil massage and not the traditional Thai-pull-your-arms-and-legs-off massage but it still counts. continue reading
I don’t like scary things. I watched The Mummy when I was a kid and didn’t sleep for a week. Even as an adult, I get nightmares way too often. Just recently, whilst staying at the awesome Tiny Tiger Hostel in Da Lat, Vietnam, I dreamt that a guy leaned over my bed and silently screamed at me, whilst I was physically unable to move in some weird half awake half asleep paralysis. I spent the rest of the night very much not sleeping but quivering, texting my mum (I’m not ashamed) for comfort whilst the rest of the dorm slept blissfully. Not. Fun.
When in Cambodia – Kampot to be exact – one of the main ‘things to do’ is go up Bokor Mountain and visit its many abandoned establishments. I’d seen pictures, it looked awesome. I was in, although sceptical. Abandoned casino is one thing, but abandoned church? Now that just sounds creepy.
Now, Although in my last post, I stated that I can infact ride a bicycle now, I am in no way ready to add an engine to this talent. With my friends all hiring their scooters of choice (and none of them wanting to take me on the back, a respectful decision) I hired a lovely local tuktuk driver to pop me on the back of his bike, and off we went.
The drive is truly sensational. Winding mountain roads that snake around lush greenery like the wind carries leaves around Hyde Park. But the higher up we went, the weirder things got.
The air was still, and we stopped off to grab some lunch in what can only be described as an inactive concert venue, where a lovely lady took my money for vegetable rice with one eye on me and one eye off to my left (no judgements here, just adds to the overall strange). People just sort of, wandered around, zombie like in some hushed secret. Where am I?
On the rest of the drive up, I promise you, I witnessed the following;
A three legged crazed dog growling at the side of the road.
A giant hotel resort that apparently only has around 10 guests at a time, nestled in the middle of nowhere, only a lone bell boy dressed ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ style carrying a cake box.
Buildings left only as foundations, rotting away into the surroundings, amidst a slight haze.
And no other people. It was like we’d driven through a vortex into nowhere.
The casino itself was insane. Grand and dominating in its stance, at the top of the hill with breathtaking views of normal life below. Its walls are stained in flecked orange paint and grey stone, and theres not a furnishing inside. Wandering around, our group separated, leaving me alone, walking up a narrow spiral stone staircase. Imagination overdrive.
Next minute, “Oooooooooh…..” comes bouncing off the walls and I’m thinking, that’s it, zombie apocalypse is happening and I wish I’d sat and watched the countless zombie movies and tv shows that my mum and stepdad constantly watch at home because what the hell would I do. Go for the brain, right?
Contradicted in fear and stupidity at my nonsense, I turned a corner to find my driver, tucked in an alcove ready to jump out at me. Come on man, I’d rather not pee my pants, thanks.
And the church? Okay, creepy level upped to 1,000,000. The outdoor toilet door swung with a creek on its hinges as we arrived, like, straight out of every horror movie ever, and we went in.
Its walls are smothered in graffiti with things like “Watch around you”. You know, just as a friendly reminder. There’s broken stained glass windows on the floor, and uncared for statues of Jesus, Mary and Joseph gathering dust with those statue eyes that follow you no matter where you stand, and an open bible on the alter with the pages open and crumpled into a beautifully lost mess.
Everyone’s wandering around like, ‘wow this is amazing’, and I’m there like, ‘yea it really is! But where the f is Joseph’s face?!’
This fine day marks a whole 182 days, exactly 6 months since I flew the coop. By coop, I mean home, and by home, I mean England. As I type, I’m sat in Chiang Mai, Thailand in 33c heat. It’s around 5 in the afternoon and I don’t know a single soul, which is liberating and lonely in equal part. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what I’ve been doing on this trip, I’ve been to 6 countries, met countless incredible people, eaten a variety of strange things (Durain, I’m looking at you and we’re still not friends) and seen too many temples to count.
But what have I learnt? This trip was an attempt to shake me out of myself, cliche I’m aware, but bite me, it’s true.
ONE. I’m not so good at the ‘solo’ part.
In this last 182 days, I’ve probably been completely alone for about 5 of them. I’ve tried, but I get too bored in my own company. I end up reclusing into a social media boredom binge. Or walking around aimlessly unable to decide whether to eat or buy something or which way I’m going and then end up back at the social media binge. As hostels and SE Asia in general are backpacker hubs, I end up in a small group of anything from 2 to 10 people and just kind of stick together for a while in some sort of wolfpack. It’s kind of nice. I like it. I’m a social being. But maybe I should try and just be with, you know, me, for a bit. Like actually just deal with liking myself and my thoughts and not just sit and stare at
antisocial media? Hmmm…
TWO. Doing nothing for a whole day is needed.
In contradiction to point one, some days (whether in a group or not) I spend the entire day doing absolutely nada but lying in a bunk bed looking at stuff on the internet, or reading a book, or bathing in the sun like a crocodile. And for some days, that’s totally okay. You need to stop, breathe, and recharge the brain as much as the body. I’d do the same at home right? Maybe minus the sun.
THREE. Being vegan isn’t always that easy.
Enter: eggs. And probably unknown meat stock or fish sauce or some form of dairy ingredient. Sometimes you just. don’t. know. (I’m sorry about the eggs, I’m working on it).
FOUR. I really do miss people and find it hard to say goodbye.
This is normal, right? The connections you make whilst travelling are quicker and stronger than a David Haye punch, and it really feels like losing a limb when you have to part. I don’t like that so much. But, on the contrary, I remind myself everyday how fortunate I am to have met these people and shared such a special moment in life with them. You’ll always be okay.
FIVE. I actually can ride a bicycle.
It’s true. Maybe because when I was 10 I went down and hill and pulled the front brake and ended up over the handle bars with a dent the size of a small cave in my helmet and 10 tonnes of gravel in my chin, or the fact that I was the only one to fall off during their cycling proficiency test (although I did pass, miraculously), or the fact that a drove in to a stationary bus because a scooter flew by too quick and I panicked, or nearly fell off avoiding a ladybug, that people think I can’t ride a bike. Well? NOW I CAN. It’s been a challenge, but thanks so some wonderful teacher friends and a whole heap of patience, I’m kicking cycling’s butt. Just remember, when you say the phrase; “You never forget how to do it, it’s like riding a bike!”, that’s a lie and is mean.
SIX. The media lies.
The world really is a magical place. I’d go so far as to say the world is 86.9% magical and only 13.1% as evil as Cruella Devil. Seriously. People are wonderful. And kind. And funny. Don’t always listen to the news! Before I left home a lot of people worried that I was “too naive” and that I “am too trusting in people, not everyone is nice”. And yes, to a degree that may be true, but I pride myself in seeing the positive energy in someone before expecting a negative, and it’s served me well so far. Example; I was sat alone waiting for some rice and veggies to come their way at a rest stop mid way through a 14 hour bus ride in Myanmar, when a local guy approached me. He asked to sit with me, and after scanning around and noticing there were in fact around a bazillion free tables, I apprehensively obliged. He was just so shocked to see a tourist on that particular bus route, as he does it all the time, crossing the border between Myanmar and Thailand. Around 10 minutes later, back on my own two seats on the bus, he came over again. “I bought you some grapes, if you don’t mind.” he said as he handed me a bag of wonderful purple grapes. See, people are amazing.
Side note, I also really love grapes and am sad I left the rest under the seat when I got off.
Get your chopsticks ready to delve into Vietnam, Southeast Asia’s diverse and wacky Eastern inhabitant. Its nature is astounding, its food is world known, but its the people that make this country one not to miss.
The Southeast Asian country bursting with Buddhas and temples, mouthwatering cuisine and scorpions on sticks, paradise beaches and the world’s most visited city*, but who lives there?
Himalaya guest house and restaurant lies at 2900 metres above sea level, so we were making good progress by the time we arrived.
“All national and international trekkers are heartily welcomed in Annapurna Sanctuary.
- Now, you are in Himalaya
- Here are two lodges
– Himalaya Guesthouse
– Himalaya Lodge
- You are requested to take care of your valuable items as you may leave your mobile phones and cameras while charging.
- During the busy season, the rooms may get limited so, we hope for your cooperation in sharing rooms with co-guests.
- The menu is determined by TMC as well as STEC so, you are humbly requested to avoid bargaining.
Have a safe and nice journey.
Things started to get pretty chilly up there and all my clothes were damp. I hung out what I could outside overnight, but it rained and everything come morning was wetter than it had been before I’d gone to sleep. Rooms also started to shrink the higher we trekked and this one consisted of three beds, touching, on one wall next to a stone bay window. The three beds were the entire width of the room, touching the wood panel walls on each side. One other single bed lay at the foot of the three, horizontal and filling the rest of the room almost entirely. The one unoccupied corner of the room was no more than one metre squared, and it became home to all our stuff.
I bought myself a beer that night, and after climbing into our room, I nestled myself in the corner, snuggled in blankets, their musty smell filling my nostrils. That beer was liquid gold. I practically hugged it like a kitten as I sat, totally content in our little space in the mountains, sipping in pure happiness. Happy in my bubble of beer and blankets, the group next door started up a conversation. The walls were paper thin, and I doubt they realised the extent of their ‘un-privacy’. The conversation was odd – maths, university, and from what we could make out through their Korean-English accents, farts.
It really tickled us, we might has well have been in the room, but their obliviousness to our blatant earwigging had us in stitches. Perhaps the beer helped.
They were part of a trekking group that looked a if they’d come straight off the cover of Trekking Weekly, should one exist. Trekking poles, boots, hats with side panels, sunglasses with neck straps, waterproof gear, windproof jackets. The full works. I wanted to ask them why they had so much stuff, but felt a wave of pride, if not a little smugness, when we walked past them with the sticks we found on the floor, and sandals on our feet. You really don’t need much. You don’t need a guide, you don’t need to buy expensive trekking poles and boots and gear. Britta, the gorgeous German girl of our gang, trekked the entirety in flips flops and bare feet. Although, I wouldn’t advise bare feet when its soggy, unless you happen to love leeches sucking on your toes.
We decided to continue to the next town for lunch, as we’d arrived in Deurali fairly early in the day from Himalaya. It was only half an hour away on the map, so seemed a logical stop off mid-day.
The only problem, the town didn’t exist.
It didn’t even slightly exist. We walked through dense trees and over boulders and through streams and up steps for over 3 hours without a building or guesthouse or civilisation in sight. Have we gone the wrong way? They said half an hour right? Is this even Nepal? Rounding yet another mountain edge, as if sent from the gods, the familiar shade of blue roofing appeared over the valley in front of us. Thank goodness. I’ve never felt so happy to see a shabby blue tin roof.
We continued with the town in sight, down the mountain we were on, only to go up again on the other side of the valley, into the clouds.
The base of the steps had a sign that said, in large capital letters; M.B.C.
We’d made it to Machapuchare Base Camp, at the foothills of the sacred mountain, it’s fish tail double summit well out of sight in the clouds. Only a million effing steps to get up there, before the sigh of relief.
Yoni and I finally reached the base camp, and stopped at the first guesthouse in search of the others. The landscape changed dramatically, more baron, less green, lots of brown and great boulders. It was like stepping onto a different planet, but the others weren’t to be seen.
Too hungry to go off in search, we re-fueled at the first place, and sat, taking in the views and feeling the cold of the air hit our skin until we needed to move once more to get warm. A few minutes in, walking through the cloud, we came across a sign: A.B.C this way →
A.B.C, Annapurna Base Camp. The end was finally a reality. The end was the next town, the next stop. The end. I hadn’t thought much about the end. I was excited to get there, but I didn’t want to get there just yet, because then it would be over. But we needed to find the others. Have they headed up already?
We walked a bit further and came across a small bundle of guesthouses, nestled amongst the rocks. I started heading toward to A.B.C sign, but Yoni decided to check one of the guesthouses, just in case. To my surprise, he shouted and waved back that they were there! We were way over an hour behind them at this point, so the chance that they’d still be there was slim to none. We joined them in the Gurung Co-Operative Guest House and Restaurant, where they sat amongst a handful of others playing chess. Good job we didn’t carry on then.
Collectively, much to my approval, we decided to stop there for the rest of the day, and wake up for sunrise to trek to the end. We’d officially entered the sanctuary by this point, but the cloud concealed the mountains that surrounded us, so we were eager for the early wakeup.
Would we make it to the end tomorrow?
The grass out front of our Chuile barn dropped off to reveal an expanse of mountain land, so come sunrise, we were up and out. Wrapped in blankets at the edge of the grass, eyes still partly squint from the sandman’s visit, watching for the golden glow of the sun. It was magical. As the sun rose it began to warm our skin and its light danced over the horizon like a delicate blanket of silk.
Satisfied with the scene, we snuck back in to bed for a few more z’s before the day’s trek. The destination, Chomrong – a village spelt differently, much like every other place, on every map. The walk, as every one before, was beautiful. Wide rivers crashed and flowed beneath long, metal bridges creating smooth rock faces below us. The forest thickened in dark evergreen and giant fuzzy caterpillars swept across the ground like lone fluffy tails.
We walked across bridges made from logs that looked as if they would give way at any moment and eventually came across a small home, just as the rain came. At first glance it was nothing more than a shack, nestled at the side of the trail. Chickens roamed outside, as did a cow or two. We took shelter from the rain, Yoni and I, under the awning to the front, where pots and pans hung cluttered on the wall of the narrow corridor.
There was an elderly man sat out on the step, watching the rain. His small face was decorated with the deep lines of his life, and he didn’t speak a word of English. Except, “chicken!” he shouted, pointing at our feathered friends. “Chicken! Haha! Chicken!” His charade of pointing and shouting in Nepali and English went on for some time, and his almost hysterical laughter had us in stitches. Didi – the name given in respect to any woman older than yourself – offered us food and sweetly spiced chai. Within 10 minutes she’d rustled up a plate of vegetable fried rice at just over £1 between us, and Yoni and I snuggled hunched up under the awning. It was some of the best rice we’d eaten, a common thing in Nepal, the worse off the place looks, chances are, the better the food.
After a little while, a group of three Americans that we’d met before walked past, soggy from the rain and covered head to toe in bright coloured rain macs. One of the girls commented that we looked really romantic, huddled together hand in hand in shelter. We did, and I guess it was.
We stayed there for a while until the rain eased, in a calm silence other than occasional small talk with Didi. We met up with our group in Chomrong about a half hour walk from our rest point – SO. MANY. STEPS. Why so many?! Always steps. Thankfully, this time, they were downward steps, but we knew we’d have to go up them in a few days time.
Collectively, we decided to get to the bottom of the small town before calling in for the night. On the route down, we encountered many a trekker warning us that the next town along, at least 40 minutes away, was full. No guesthouses had space, which made our decision to stay in Chomrong all the wiser. The light was fading fast, so the next place we came across, we went in. “You have room? For 5 please?” An elder Nepali man made his way over to us, grinning that wonderful smile reserved for those over 60. He did have room, a room, but we soon figured that this was not a guesthouse, but his home.
That’s the wonderful thing about Nepal, every person, every child, is ready and willing to give their heart to you in an instant. A close friend of mine, talking about our trip to Malawi once said, “they have nothing, but they will give you half of what they have”, and I feel the same is true for the Nepalese. He showed us to the room, to the far left of a long, narrow bungalow. Inside the door lay three or four beds – I struggle to remember now – filling up the majority of the space. The floor was bare wooden boards, and the walls were old and unpainted, but it felt homely and safe. Above us housed a mezzanine level of more wooden boards. It looked creepy in its dim light, and made home for plenty of web living creatures and storage. We left it alone.
At the far end of the room, Dai (the name given to an older man) had cloves of garlic drying on a large, woven tray. At least the mossies will leave us be. The air was calm and we were the only guests. Sensing our fatigue, Dai gestured that dinner will be prepared, dal bhat of course, and that he would return when it was ready. When he did return, shuffling slightly on his aged legs, he guided us to his kitchen. His wife was sat on a small stool around the ancient fire stove. She was a much bigger lady than he was a man, and he joked with us about the direness of her cooking skills. She laughed and rolled her eyes, lighting up her round face, waving him away in a dismissive yet tender manner. Her plump frame bouncing at the shoulders. He laughed that wonderful laugh, and we all joined. They had laid out space for us around a mat in the centre of the room, and we all sat, crossed legged with him and her as Didi served one of the most delicious dal bhats we’d ever eaten. Terrible cook, yeah right. I love that about that dish. The premise is the same: one mountain of white rice, one small bowl of lentil dhal or dal, one helping of vegetable curry, a spoon of achar – a vegetable pickle, normally pretty spicy – and a popadom. But yet, everywhere you eat, it’s different. The curry could be potato and cauliflower, or carrot and potato, or green beans. The achar could be really spicy and full of lime, or could be sautéed spinach or mustard greens. The dhal could be just lentil, or could have beans or chickpeas. The options are endless, and the consistent result is a warming, hearty and nutrient dense plate of deliciousness.
Full and content, we went to bed, and that’s when things took a turn for me. My Poon Hill leg ache had escalated into full on, jaw clenching calf pain. Every move I took in my sleep woke me with sharp, stabbing pains in my legs. I couldn’t bare to touch them. Just as the sun made its first glance over the horizon, I too, woke up once more.
I took myself and a few tears out to the stone porch that ran the length of the building. The morning air was cold and misty on my face, but I couldn’t lie down any more, I needed to try and stretch the pain if I were to continue to walk three or four hours more that day.
I lit a cigarette and stared out in to the distance, feeling a little sorry for myself and hoping the pain would subside. I don’t want to be the failure, if they can do it, I can. I won’t fail, the pain will go. Yoni appeared at the door, and came out to smoke with me, noticing my teared face but sitting in comforting silence with me, as if reading my mind. It calmed me, and I began to gain that inner confidence again that I knew I needed to get through the day. It will pass. And it did.
As everyone started to stir, we got ourselves ready for the day. I turned my pain into the day’s joke and we said goodbye to our gracious hosts.
Through a check point, we walked all the way to Himalaya, through Sinuwa, Bamboo and Dobhan. The pain eased, and I learned that that was the last of it for the rest of the trek. I was over the worst and ready for the next adventure.