In case I wasn’t sure, a day and a half in the Nepalese jungle at Chitwan National Park confirmed that I’m a city girl at heart. Before our jungle cruise excursion began, our very informative guide gave us a safety briefing on what to expect. Cover your skin to protect against leeches and mosquitoes. If a rhinoceros charges at you, run in a zigzag pattern. If an angry elephant starts to stampede, climb a tree. If a tiger chases you, well, there’s not much you can do; just run really fast! I longed for the urban jungle of New York City where I knew how to deal with the “wildlife.”
Travel is one of those rare things that can bring you misery and awe, sometimes simultaneously. Our group huddled into long, narrow and very unstable canoes. As I sat on the tiny bench, to my horror, I saw the interior was covered in giant, alien-like insects and spiders. Rusty red ants with bulbous heads. Pea-sized white spiders. Speckled brown spiders that could fit in your palm. And, my favorite of all, the spindly spider which, after I flicked it into the river, ran on top of the water and jumped right back in the boat.
If the mutant-sized insects weren’t enough, our jungle cruise canoe ride soon got more uncomfortable as the skies opened. We were, literally, in a monsoon. My blue, tent-like rain poncho was not enough to protect against such a deluge. Within minutes, my pants were completely soaked. My rucksack, nestled in front of my legs, was submerged. As I shivered, blinking out the biting rain that was slanted perfectly to hit my eyes, I tried to forget my misery by taking in the lush surroundings. There were no discerning features, just a mass of dense, green jungle and the swirling blue-gray river. The only sounds were from solitary seabirds diving into the rapids for their lunch and the steady plodding oar, moving us slowly forward.
As my gluteal muscles ached from the hard, wooden chair, I reminded myself that I was on a unique, once-in-a-lifetime journey. Being on a jungle cruise along the Rapti River in the middle of the Nepali jungle was quite amazing.I kept repeating this in my head, like a mantra. “This is incredible. How many people get to experience this? This is amazing.” But I wanted nothing more than to get off of that boat, until I saw our landing point. Oh no no no. Let me stay on the boat! I moaned, probably not to myself.
There was no pier. In fact, there was no flat surface at all to disembark onto. I saw the vague outlines of a muddy, vertical “path.” If I didn’t drown getting off the canoe, I was surely going to slide to a muddy death as I climbed up the bluff.
Our intrepid guides positioned themselves strategically on the hill, and proceeded to fling us, one at a time, from one guide to the next until we reached the very top. And finally, relieved that I had escaped drowning in the river and/or mud, the wonder overcame the despair. As I stood among elephant grass that dwarfed my 1.6 meter frame surrounded by the rhythmic chirping of some unseen bird (or frog?), I was in a place unlike anywhere I’d ever seen before. And the adventure was only beginning.
A sequel is coming soon…Look out for Part Two: Attack of the Leeches.
Have you ever experienced the simultaneous emotions of misery and awe while traveling? Share your stories in the comments section! I’d love to hear them.