Saturday, June 21, 2008

Three Nepal Scenes

1. It was our first dinner at the Jungle Island Resort in Chitwan National Park. After a full day of riding the back of an elephant in Nepal's jungles--with only one monkey sighting and several mosquito bites to account for--we, along with the Aussies, Brits and Canadians had tiger-sized appetites.

The buffet dinner was served promptly at 7:45 p.m. (electricity on the island was non-existent except during the hours of 7:30-9:30 p.m.), which meant there was a mad rush for dinner, showers, and any reading during this time. All the food was prepared in a small kitchen, which we later found out, was the sighting of nine-foot-long python as thick as my neck.

The macaroni in sweet and sour sauce, a chicken curry that had more bone than chicken or curry, and buffalo meat dressed in something resembling the mud still caked on to my shoes seemed like a feast for Nepali kings.

As I sat down in front of my dinner, I felt like a real adventurer. I had survived the jungle, had never had such awful body odor or so many bug bites and was even wearing cargo pants. I was a natural amazon.

As I stuck my fork into a pile of jungle feast, the lights suddenly went out and I found myself in complete darkness. Power outages in Nepal are common, so all of us laughed and continued to eat in the pitch black. A minute later the power went on, followed by shrieks and groans. As we looked down at our plates, we realized we weren't the only ones who were hungry. Cockroaches had taken advantage of the darkness and had scuttled onto our plates for a feast of their own. I like to think the crunchiness in the chicken was the excess bone. Dinner time, at least for us, was over.

2. We were into the second hour of our jungle walk in Chitwan National Park. Our guide, Chanu, had shown us many scary animals and fauna, including giganta-sized rhinos with horns that could pierce through our bodies as easily as a needles through silk, poisonous plants that, if touched, could turn our entire bodies crimson, and fresh sloth bear poo which indicated the ferocious creatures were lurking around the corner. Our weapons? Walking sticks.

Several of the other tourists were scared, walking tenderly on the footpath trying to make as little noise as possible. One said she wanted to head back to base camp. I, on the other hand, felt invincible. That was until Chanu stopped, smiled and held up a thick blade of grass, which had my nemesis lurching and squirming up the green plant. "Blood leech," Chanu exclaimed proudly. Memories of my experience in Pokhara re-emerged (See Fear Factor Nepal). I'd rather be surrounded by starved tigers and marsh muggers than a single leech. Chanu pointed to my arm and said matter-of-factly, "There is a leech." I screamed and did what Ben has termed my "banshee impression." The group of tourists looked confused. "Just kidding," said Chanu.

3. It was like an episode from Lost. We wanted off the island, but forces beyond our control wanted to keep us there. Our three days at the Jungle Island Resort were over. Our clothes had never smelled worse and never had we wanted wi-fi, light from a source that wasn't a kerosene lamp and AC so badly. The trip, especially the elephant bathing, had been fantastic, especially because we were on a private jungle island for just us and nine other tourists. But we were ready to return from the stone age.

The plan was to depart the island at 8:15 a.m. by boat to the mainland before we'd be escorted by tourist bus back to Kathmandu. Chanu, our guide, had news for us. A strike was going on over...school books. The government was supposed to provide books to a school, but they were never delivered. The natural solution? A strike blocking the main road. Naturally.

The plan of action was to wait the strike out. After a few hours of playing scrabble, gin rummy, and eating far too much candy out of sheer boredom, it was announced that we would leave the island by row boat and walk around the strike--1.5 kilometers--where we would then be picked up by bus. Annoying, but simple enough, we thought.

As we started down the path, a heavy rainfall impeded our journey and we had to hide out in an elephant trainer's shack before we could continue down the muddy, slippery path to the row boat. After waiting for the row boat to arrive to the bank, 11 of us piled into a small, narrow boat, that because of our weight, was riding much too low beneath the water. A toothpick-sized layer of wood separated the water and the lip of the boat.

A jeep (not a bus) waited for us on the other side. We squeezed in, 11 of us, and went down a bumpy path not to the tourist bus but to a hotel affiliated with the Jungle Island Resort. We took our 50 pound bags into the hotel, only to be hold to pile back into a small bus. We were told that the strike might be over. The strike wasn't over, we soon discovered after running into miles of parked cars that hadn't moved for hours. "Now you walk," said the bus driver. Naturally.

After walking down a busy road with our rhino-sized backpacks for half an hour (I felt like I was in an iron man competition, except instead of being cheered on, the Nepalis were looking at us as if we were Shiva himself), another bus picked us up. "Finally," I thought. "Now we'll be able to go to Kathmandu." We were especially worried because we had a flight back to Delhi the next day. Wrong.

This bus took us to another bus which wasn't a tourist vehicle at all, but a local bus. The seats had strange stains and was made for midgets. I'm pretty sure there were a few goats and Nepalis piled on to the top of the bus as well. There was no room for our luggage except for our laps. Fiver hours and two chip bags later, we were back to what we would call 'home' for the night. Naturally.

1 comment:

Leslie said...

"Survivor," Nepalese style. After this, probably nothing will ever stand in your way.