Elephant Baths and Jeep Safaris

After our little adventure getting very close to nature, we had no time to catch our breath. Next stop was the elephant breeding centre to play with some baby elephants. If you know me well, then you know that I’m a bit animal mad. Particularly when it comes to baby animals, especially large baby animals such as elephants. I’ve only seen them a couple of times in my life but every time is as good as the next. There’s something so adorable about a clumsy, leathery goofball who just looks like a naughty child. I may be a little obsessed but baby elephants just make my heart melt.

We arrived at the breeding centre at about 10am. The elephants get let out in the jungle from 10:30-4:30pm so we’d arrived just in time. Unfortunately the elephants were all chained up minus one of the babies, but our guide said it was for our protection mainly, as well as monitoring the elephants. Because there was only a waist high fence between up and the elephants, if they were running loose and got mad at too many people milling around, it could become a bit chaotic. It was sad to see them chained up but the Chitwan National Park is one of the only places in the world that has successfully rehabilitated these beautiful giants to a substantial population number, so I guess they are doing the right thing. The majority of funding for the breeding centre comes from tourism, so without visitors, this centre would cease to exist and the elephant population would probably decrease. So while some people see the captivity of elephants cruel, it’s actually beneficial for both Nepal and the elephants. Of the 20+ elephants here, none of them are used for work purposes. They are solely here just to breed and look after their little ones.

The one baby elephant who was loose was the biggest ratbag ever. He marched over to the four of us and tried to grab out water bottles out of our hands with his trunk and sniffed us all over. He was just five months old but had the attitude of a teenager, for an elephant he raced around quite quickly and was a bit rough when he played. It was beautiful to watch the interaction between the mother and babies and I could have happily stayed there all day!

They say you have to give up things for love. I happily gave up my water for this guy! 😀

We had to move on though, it was time for an ‘elephant shower’ and lunch. I quickly dropped my things off at the Safari Club and headed down to the river where some of the elephants were having a bath. This was a bit of a touristy gimmick, but one I was quite happy to oblige in. While people get quite worked up about riding elephants, I wasn’t so worried after seeing the treatment of these beautiful creatures. I don’t know whether it’s because I’ve ridden horses my entire life and have lived on a farm but I don’t see the treatment of these animals that cruel. Yes, I realise in some countries, elephants are treated cruelly and that’s unacceptable but from what I saw here in Nepal, these elephants actually looked happy. Elephant training isn’t that different from breaking in a horse. Of course, the size and strength brings on some differences but it’s not always that pleasant to break a horse in. I mean, we’ve tied up horses for hours to get them to behave, which from an outsider who has never witnessed this before might consider this cruel. But our horses are given so much love that this discipline is usually overshadowed. In a way, it’s the same for elephant trainers. They will usually only have one elephant for life and its their main source of income so while there is strong discipline used by the trainer, there would be a huge amount of care put into the animal. The trainer needs the elephant as much as the elephant needs the trainer so it is all relevant. I guess what I’m trying to say is that, the people that get really worked up about elephant training are people who haven’t been exposed to other forms of animal treatment. Anyway that’s enough of an essay. I love animals and it’s my personal choice to interact with the elephants this way.  I’m still not entirely sold on elephant safaris, but this was a natural experience that I was going to be a part of. Elephants love the water, they spend quite a bit of time bathing themselves in the river and I was merely there to be a proverbial fly on the elephants back. 

I walked up the wooden platform to get onto the elephants back and we waded into the river. This was the very river we had canoed down this morning so I was very aware that there were crocodiles swimming around me. I just hoped I wasnt going to become a snack! The elephant was about belly-deep in the water and proceeded to start splashing me with river water using his trunk. It was quite funny and a great way to cool down. I think the elephant and the trainer got more enjoyment out of it than me! This went on for about five minutes and then the elephant kneeled down and started to roll over! I was thrown into the river, where I hastily exited because of the aforementioned crocodiles!

Is it just me or is this elephant grinning?
Apparently I needed a bath, not just a shower!

It was a quick experience but a lovely one. I got one more cuddle from the elephant (well actually it was mainly me cuddling him!) before I had to head back for lunch. A quick lunch break and then we were back out in the jungle for a jeep safari. It was here that we might get the chance of seeing the elusive tiger or leopard. I didn’t have high hopes but with the amount of rhinos we’d seen in the wild, it may just happen!

We canoed across the river to where the jeeps were and got comfy. It was going to be about five hours of driving around the jungle so I was glad I had a good seat. The safari was quite good, we saw more rhinos – even another baby one! There were plenty of monkeys and deer, who actually coincide together and look out for each other. We also saw a few monitor lizards, crocodiles and different kinds of birds. Unfortunately no tigers or leopards but I’ seen that many wild rhinos, I wasnt disappointed! 


Look at that face!!!

After the safari we had a drink on the riverbank to watch the sunset before heading back to the Safari Club for dinner. I was heading back to Kathmandu tomorrow at 6am, so I went to bed early knackered from my massive day! 


The following morning it was raining when I woke up, must be time to go! The bus ride back to Kathmandu was bloody awful. It took 14 hours this time, with only two spots. I definitely have had enough of buses in Nepal! We got into Kathmandu around 10:30pm and I headed straight to my hostel to pass out! Tomorrow I fly to Chiang Mai to see the north of Thailand. Nepal has been a fabulous experience and I’m definitely keen to return to do more hiking, but no more buses!!

J. X

The Day I Got Chased By A Rhino

“Don’t make eye contact, don’t look, don’t look! Okay run, RUN!”

The three of us bolted, following the zig-zag pattern that our guide was doing to throw them off course. My camera bag bounced against my hip as I ran, my heart raced and the sweat started to drip down my face. The branches on the ground crunched as we trod on them heavily, being completely silent wasn’t an issue anymore – getting out alive was. 

How I’d found myself running away from a rampant female rhinoceros, I’m still trying to work out but here I was in the Chitwan National Park in south-west Nepal trying to outrun a pissed off mother rhino whose bath was rudely interrupted by humans. 

This morning when I’d left the Safari Club Lodge where I was staying, I was under the impression that we would be going for a lovely canoe ride down the river, followed by a short walk through a part of the national park to hopefully see some animals. I had assumed that the short walk was just a way of making it back to the lodge and they’d called it a jungle walk to make it seem more exciting. However, this is Nepal and after three weeks of being in this crazy, chaotic country that a short walk actually means two hours of trawling through dense grasslands in search of animals.

The canoe ride was indeed very lovely. There were two guys from the Czech Republic – who were also staying at the Safari Club – who had come along with me. Before we even got into the canoe our guide spotted two rhinos further down the river. One was cooling off in the river and the other was on the banks out of sight, sussing out whether he should invade the other rhinos territory. It was my first time seeing a rhinoceros in the wild and it was quite exciting to be up close to such an exotic animal. Little did I know I was about to get a whole lot closer.




There were over 600 rhinoceros in Chitwan National Park, the largest population in Nepal. They are some of the most protected animals in the park and years of poaching culling numbers dramatically. However since the 1970’s, many conservation laws have been put in place to protect the species. This has been very successful, with rhino population numbers higher than they’re been in years. The past three years the park has had zero poaching attempts, a number that they’re very proud of.

When I first decided to go to Chitwan I hadn’t expected to see any of the exciting animal in the wild, like rhinos, tigers or elephants. I thought it would be a glorified trip to the jungle where the most exciting thing you’ll see is a monkey or deer. So to see a rhino straight away, I was stoked!

As the canoe ride went on, we floated past locals fishing on their wooden rafts. Everyone seemed to know each other and yelled out conversations as they passed. Rain started to sprinkle on us and I was annoyed that I forgot my rain coat. A rookie error in monsoon season. We passed an elephant having a bath and a snack and a few diffferent varieties of birds. After about an hour, we pulled up to the sandy bank and climbed out, ready for saunter through the jungle.

Cruising down the river

Like I said earlier, I thought this would be a quick stroll through some of the jungle before heading on to the elephant breeding centre and the tour guide wanted to make the day’s program sound more exciting. However, I was wrong and we were actually going to stalking around the jungle for about two hours! Before we started, our guide gave us the lowdown on how to act if an animal turns on you. As he went on about running in a zigzag pattern and climbing trees for rhinos and standing still and making eye contact with tigers I had a little laugh to myself. These guides sure have been taught well on how to wind up tourists! He was so sincere in his monologue I almost believed him but thought that there would be no way they’d let us out in the wild with potentially deadly animals. Now you’d think for someone who’s done some pretty wild things in her travels, such as letting off explosives in a silver mine in Bolivia and hiking the illegal Stairway to Heaven in Hawaii that I would be a little less naive about safety regulations around the world (or more, the lack of) But no, having come from Australia where everyone is wrapped up in cotton wool and treated like a baby I still believed that everything will always be sunshine and dandy and danger would never come my way. 

I was going to be proven wrong, yet again..

After the safety briefing we hiked in a single file silently through the jungle. The humidity was even worse under the canopy of the jungle and my shirt clung to my sweaty back instantly. We walked for about fifteen minutes, treading carefully on the grassy plain below us, the only sound being the crunch of twigs breaking beneath our feet. I was already bored of the walk when my guide stopped suddenly and turned his head to listen. 

‘This way… Rhino” he whispered, indicating that we follow him behind a huge shrubby bush. As he pushed the bush away there was a small lagoon filled with lilyponds a few metres away. At first I couldn’t tell what he was pointing to but then I saw the dark grey blob amongst the bright green reeds. A rhino was bathing just 10 or so metres from us! Completely oblivious to his audience, the rhino looked so content as he wallowed in the reedy water. One of the guys inched closer and trod on some broken branches. The rhino turned his head towards us and looked us directly in the eye. We stood still waiting to see what would happen but the rhino just turned back around and continued his bath. He wasnt camera shy. We watched for a little longer before moving on deeper into the jungle.

What chu lookin’ at???
Nothing to see here folks…

Excited that this dull jungle walk was more than what I was expecting, I picked up my pace and kept my eyes peeled for anymore animals. Another 10 minutes passed with nothing and then we spotted some monkeys and deer going about their day. The deer with the excellent hearing ran off just as we got got but the monkeys weren’t afraid being so high up. We walked further and my hopes were slowly disappearing again. 

Oh deer.. they spotted us

Just as I was about to give up on expecting any more animals, our guide made a sign to be quiet and follow him. We tiptoed behind him and he pointed out a muddy water hole to our left. We walked past the waterhole to the hide behind a couple of trees. Just 20 metres away was a mother rhino and her baby having a bath in the muddy water. The baby rhino was quite possibly the cutest and ugliest thing I’d ever seen! We watched for a few minutes before trying to edge closer for a better look. As the branches crunched underneath our feet, the overprotective mother looked our way with her little ears pricked in attention. We halted abruptly and waited for our guides next move. Paused a moment, I got the chance to take a quick photo before the mother rhino turned towards us and started moving. 

Right before she started to run towards us

“Okay, go, GO!’ Our guide said and he took off – there was no protecting hotel guests here! We followed hastily, trying to run in a zigzag and not lose our guide. I didn’t dare look behind me but kept an eye out for any trees that might be climb-able. I wondered if my travel insurance would cover being trampled by a rhino. Even though it was only a handful of seconds, it felt like we were running for an eternity. Finally our guide launched into some bushes and waved us to get behind him. We squatted, panting for breath hoping that the rhino had been thrown off course. Thankfully we’d made so much noise running like idiots through the jungle that she was too startled to chase and ran off in a different direction. We stayed squatting for a minute to catch our breath.

“She gone, we are safe” our guide said. The three of us looked back at him bewildered. What happened to the mundane jungle walk!? We all looked at each other and burst into nervous laughter, talk about dodging a big, grey leathery bullet! Continuing on, I kept very close to our guide as we made a quick exit out of the jungle. That was enough cardio for the morning! We reached the edge of the dense jungle and walked down the beaten 4WD path until we reached the elephant breeding centre, sweaty and muddy. So much for an easy jungle walk!

J. X

Heading to Chitwan National Park

After a day in Kathmandu, I said goodbye to C and made my way to Chitwan National Park. After another deeeelightful bus journey that was supposed to take five hours but took nine, I finally made it to my destination. It was hot, humid and nowhere as busy as Kathmandu! I liked it already.

Chitwan National Park is a World Heritage Site that covers about 900 square kilometres. This massive space of land is home to many wild animals such as leopards, tigers, rhinoceros and elephants. Years ago it was the stomping ground of poachers and animal numbers diminished rapidly, however the Nepalese government stepped in to stop the poachers and rehabilitate animal population. They’ve had much success, with nearly three years of zero poaching, population of animals re-establishing and animal conservation becoming the most important priority. 

I was only spending about two days in Chitwan but had a jam-packed program to see as much as I could! Once I arrived to accommodation – The Safari Club – and dropped off my belongings, I was taken on a river walk with my guide for the trip. The humidity was insane and outside my cool room, the sweat covered my skin instantly. We walked through the small town of Sauraha, which is one of the main tourist towns in Chitwan and made it to the riverbanks of the National Park. Beyond the river, grassy plains stretched out until the eye could see. My guide pointed out crocodiles in the river and explained by the different breeds here in Nepal. They weren’t the massive chompers that we have in Australia but they would still happily take a snap at you, given the opportunity!

We walked further down the river when my guide ran into one of his friends, they chattered in Nepalese and then told me there’s a rhino bathing just down the river. We quickly walked down the path until we saw the huge animal submerged in the river, looking a lot cooler than we felt! This was the first time I’d seen a rhino in the wild and I was just a tad excited. It had been less than an hour in Chitwan and I’d already spotted a rhino, I couldn’t imagine what else was to come!

We passed an elephant rehabilitation centre on our walk
This rhino had the right idea! Would have loved to jump in to cool down!

We walked further down the river to see if there were any more animals about but unfortunately the rhino was the only one out to play today. Heading back to the where the town meets the river, we stopped for a drink to watch the sunset. Unfortunately it was a little cloudy so the sunset wasn’t in full swing but it was still lovely to be surrounded by nature instead of the smoggy city. After sunset we headed back to the Safari Club where I had dinner and a quick shower before going to a cultural dance. It was a bit touristy, full of loud Chinese tourists and their flashing cameras but still nice to watch. It was about 9:30pm by the time that finished so I headed straight to bed after that Because i had an early start in the morning!

J. X

Tiny sunset in Chitwan today

My guide and I – excuse the sweaty face!

Discovering Kathmandu Valley

Today is was time to play tourist properly and escape the busy streets of Kathmandu to see more of the area. B, C and myself hired a driver for the day, which cost about $AUD5 each and were escorted out of the city. We left at 8am and it was still ridiculously hot. Thankfully our car had air-conditioning so at least we could escape the heat there.

Our first stop was Patan, the third largest city in Nepal. Just a twenty minute drive from Thamel and we’d crossed the bridge into Patan. While it was only a short journey to Patan, the environment changes quite dramatically. Also known as the ‘City of Beauty’, Patan’s architecture was dedicated to the philosophy of the Buddhist Dharma-Chakra, which moulds the UNESCO listed Patan as a glorious city of religion, culture, art and heritage. While still as hot and dusty as Kathmandu, with people milling about everywhere, there was a certain charm to the place. The residue of the earthquake is still very present. Many of the temples listed on our maps were either badly destroyed or just a pile of rubble. We wandered through the Patan Museum, where many of Nepal’s cultural history and traditional sacred arts are displayed. 

Some of the sights in Patan

We stayed in Patan for about two hours before locating our driver and heading on to the next destination – Bhaktapur. A half an hour drive through the Kathmandu Valley and we arrived at Bhaktapur. It was an interesting drive. It still felt like we were on the outskirts of Kathmandu but we were actually in a totally different town. Driving along I watched as the locals went about their daily lives. It was amazing to see how these people in such a place. Buildings were plonked haphazardly beside roads, homemade signs splashed across their mould-stained walls and makeshift doors creating an entrance. Everything was half-finished and messy. Rubbish lined the roads and there were just as many people walking along the road as there was cars and motorbikes. There seemed to be so many people coming and going, with vans and tuk-tucks jampacked full of people, but where were they going? No-one seemed to be working, children ran around in the dust and men were sprawled out in chairs outside their homes. Occasionally a brown-skinned figure could be seen passed out on the roadside, oblivious to the roaring traffic. It was sad to see, all these humans just existing in this dust bowl. I’m sure they were happy, but it wasn’t a life that looked enticing. 

Bhaktapur was similar to Patan, with a main square, well preserved courtyards and temples. Again, the earthquake had badly damaged the city and most landmarks were damaged in one way or another. It was stifling hot so we stopped into a small cafe for an iced coffee and snack before exploring on. It was here that we discovered the three of us aren’t that good at sightseeing, it was tiring work! We pushed on and wandered through the town before heading back to the car for the next destination.


The next stop was Pashupatinath Temple. I’d been wanting to visit this temple for while to witness its cremation ceremonies and sacred rituals. Pashupatinath Temple is one of the most scared Hindi temples in Nepal and is the most important temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. This draws in hundreds of Hindu followers every year, particularly the elderly who come from every corner of Nepal and India to meet death and be cremated on the banks of the river. This is so they travel their last journey with the waters of the sacred river Bagmati, which eventually meets the holy river waters of the Ganges.

Some of the cremation ceremonies at Pashupinath

As we weren’t Hindu, we weren’t allowed in the main temple but could still explore the outer areas, including see the cremation ceremonies from the banks of the river. It was a sobering moment, to see an actual human body being cremated out in the open. I’d never seen a dead body before so it wasn’t only confronting but also hard to revert your eyes. However as hard as it was to watch for us, for locals it was a way of life. They don’t see death as the end of the road but as a new beginning so as sad as it was, they were letting their loved ones go to start a new journey. We watched for about twenty minutes, completely drawn in by the proceedings before exploring the temple domain a bit more. 



After seeing most of what we could we headed back to our driver for our last stop of the day – Boudhanath, home to Nepal’s largest stupa. It wasn’t a very long drive but a crazy one to Boudha, where the busy streets had people spilling out onto the roads and daredevils on scooters dodging traffic without a care for themselves. If there’s one thing I’ll remember about the people of Nepal is their lack of self-preservation skills. They launch into incoming traffic without looking and cross the road like the cars buzzing past will just stop for them. I guess that’s their Hindu and Buddhist belief, if this life ends, another one will begin elsewhere.

We were dropped in a back street and had to navigate our own way across the busy streets to get to the entrance of Bouda. I’ve not yet been to India, but I have a strong feeling these streets would look pretty similar. Low hanging tangles of powerlines, buildings shoved together with no actually thought, dirty windows and people, so many people. It was insane how many people there were. We made our way through the crowds to the entrance of Bouda where the sheer mass of the stupa was enough to make you take a step back.

Welcome to the chaos
 

We walked clockwise around the stupa, enthralled by the massive size of it and looking at all the little souvenir shops surrounding it. Apparently the stupa was the result of a guilty son who murdered his father, the King at the time. I’m not sure how accurate that story is but it’s a good scandal! We stopped in for a late lunch at a rooftop restaurant that gave us a good birdseye view of the stupa. We were pretty knackered from the day of sightseeing so took a few more photos before heading back to our driver to be taken back to Kathmandu.



It had been an interesting day and gave us more of an insight into the history of Nepal and their beliefs. It was late afternoon when we got back to Thamel so we split up to refresh before meeting again for dinner at OR2K. It was B’s last night so we celebrated with more espresso martinis and chocolate pudding! Tomorrow C and I myself are heading to Pokhara to escape the city!

J. X

Exploring Old Kathmandu

Back into the craziness Kathmandu and it wasnt long before I was wishing I was still high in the mountains where it was a bit cooler and quieter! Kathmandu is a dusty, hot jumble of people, motorbikes and stray dogs. After being in a car-free environment for almost two weeks, it was a bit of shock to be launched back into the busy streets of Thamel. However the access to a hot shower, comfy beds and decent food was happily welcomed! 

Enjoying a rooftop sunset at the Traditional Comfort

There was a few people in the group that were sticking around Kathmandu for a couple of days after we returned so we took delight in celebrating with very Western food and lots of it! After a relaxing day in our swanky final hotel of the trip (Traditional Comfort, if you ever want to lash out in Kathmandu, this place it where to go!) a group of us headed into Old Kathmandu for a wander. Opting against getting a guide, we made our own way into the old city centre, venturing towards Durbar Square, albeit very slowly!

Old Kathmandu and Durbar Square is a busy quarter of the city, were family dwellings of all shapes and sizes (and homemade-extension types) knock out the sunlight, shop fronts spill out onto the street and street stalls selling everything from vegetables to motorbike parts clog the walkway. The old city is constructed on a fundamental building called bahal – which is a set of buildings joined at right angles around a central courtyard. This building style honeycombs the entire city, joining almost everyone together. Many of these bahal’s were originally Buddhist monasteries but have now been reverted for residential use. The streets were lined with a tangle of black power lines, some hanging so low you had to duck. Being an electrician in this country would be a nightmare! The effect of the 2015 earthquake was still very present here, buildings were crumbling at the edges and constructions sites were everywhere – most looked like they’d been classed as ‘too hard’ and just left to sit and disintegrate. 

Chaotic streets of Old Kathmandu

These guys actually sleep in their rickshaws – always waiting for the next ride
Remnants of the 2015 earthquake are sadly still present everywhere

We spent a good majority of our time wandering up  and down dusty streets, getting lost amongst the bahal and dodging rickshaws. As the only Westerners around, we were in the spotlight and locals stared at us from windows, shop fronts and even on passing motorbikes. The streets were tiny lanes, jam packed full of different shops and people. It was an ‘every man for themself’ situation. With locals pushing and shoving to get on their way, we had to do the same. Being tall and blonde had it perks, as locals stopped to stare they created an opening for me to duck through and be on my way. 

Wandering for a couple of hours we finally came across Durbar Square. Hunger took over our need to explore and we found a rooftop cafe in the corner of Durbar Square to munch down some veggie burgers before exploring on. To enter Durbar Square and the surrounds it cost 1000 rupees (about AUD$13) which was quite expensive to see the centre of the old town. This money was supposed to go to earthquake reconstruction funds, however the lack of reconstructing going on, it was hard to believe that was the case. Nonetheless, we paid for our ticket and headed in.

Durbar Square
Anyone need a dentist?


Without a guide we wandered around trying to give ourselves a self guided tour from a Lonely Planet book. As it was the middle of the day, it was hot and not ideal to be playing tourist in so we headed to the shady street (in more ways than one) known more commonly as Freak Street. This street was infamous in the 60’s and 70’s where it was a highlight on the backpacker hippie trail. The draw card to this particular street was the government-run hashish shops. Hippies from all over the world flocked to Freak Street for easily accessible cannabis and hash and it became a hippie nirvana until the early 1970s when the government decided to clean up of the area. Nowadays the hash and cannabis has been replaced by trekking and cultural tourism and hippies have been replaced by hikers and more spiritually inclined. As we wandered down the street, there was little renmant of this so-called hippie nirvana, bar one or two cannabis stores. It was fascinating to think that this part of the city, who now goes to bed early, was once a major pot-fest. We passed one or two dreadlocked, wrinkly old Westerners sat on shop front stairs covered in tie-dye and a glazed look out their eyes but mostly it was Chinese tourists taking photos. I’m sure those guys had a few wild stories to tell – if they could remember it!

Freak Street – a far cry from its marijuana-smoking hey day

With the heat getting to us a little, we found refuge in a rooftop cafe and ordered iced coffees to perk us up. Below us, the bustle of the old city never stopped. Between locals trying to sell their goods, to bus loads of tourists being suckered into buying them – it was in a constant state of motion. You could sit and watch all day and never get bored. We were waiting until 4:15pm when nearby a living goddess would be showing her face from her balcony. A tourist ploy, perhaps? But we were going to wait and find out.

In Nepal there is a tradition of worshipping pre-pubescent girls as manifestations of the divine female energy in Hindu religious traditions. The Kumari – as she is called – is a young girl selected from the Newari community in Nepal. While we were first told there is only one living goddess Kumari, it turns out there’s actually a few around the country. However we were seeing the Royal Kumari who apparently was the most important. As the Kumari has to be a pre-pubescent girl, she changes quite regularly due to the girls growing up. There has been 14 Royal Kumaris since the 1920’s, each who have passed the vigourious selection process.

Potential Kumaris must be in excellent health, have never shed blood, been affiliating with any diseases, possess certain physical qualities such as a body like a bayan tree and eyelashes like a cow. She must have very black hair and eyes, dainty hands and feet and show signs of fearlessness and serenity. If she passes all that, then the candidate must go through tests, such as showing no fear in a candlelit room full of heads of animals sacrificed in her honour and spend a night alone with them. If the candidate gets through this far, she then has to correctly pick out the belongings of the previous Kumari. If she is unsuccessful, the whole process is done again until the new Kumari is found. Can I just add that the candidates could be as young as 3 years old..

It all seemed a little airy fairy for me but I went along for the spectacle simply to say I’ve witnessed a living goddess. We were in good company too as the small courtyard from which the Kumari’s balcony is situated was jam-packed full of people. The power of the Kumari is perceived to be so strong that even just a glimpse of her is believed to bring good fortune. I was hoping they were right because I could really do with a good fortune right about now, but I have a feeling she wouldn’t be throwing money out her balcony window. We weren’t allowed to take photos of the Kumari so I won’t even have proof of the time I saw a living goddess.

The top middle window is where the Kumari made her brief appearance

4pm rolled around and myself and about one hundred other people squashed into the tiny courtyard waiting for the divine Kumari to appear. Being on time clearly wasnt a prerequisite for being a living goddess as it was another few minutes before she showed her face. Finally a young girl appeared in a red and gold dress, her face pale with make-up and eyes heavily painted with eyeliner. She stared at us for moments, directly staring us three Aussie girls mainly – a trio of Caucasians in a room full of Chinese – before disappearing back into the darkness. It was a fleeting visit and the only thing I could think of was how sad she looked, staring out at a room full of tourists. I didn’t blame her though, she would do the same thing everyday. Same room, different people. Even a living goddess can’t escape the mundane parts of a job.

We left the Old Town, feeling not quite like we’d been blessed with good fortune but time will tell. We headed back into Thamel where we split up to refresh ourselves before meeting again for dinner at possibly the best, albeit most touristy restaurant in town, OR2K.

OR2K is an Israeli-run vegetarian restaurant, which serves up delicious food and more importantly, vegetables! I have been craving fresh veggies since the trek were white potato and cabbage were the best I could come up with. We gorged ourselves on falafel platters and hummus, before topping it all off with a hot chocolate soufflé pudding which actually may have been the best thing I’ve ever eaten! Oh and espresso martinis! Yes they had delicious espresso martinis for less than AUD$4! I was in love with this place! Definitely coming back here. I hadn’t eaten that much food in one sitting since Christmas and felt like I had to be rolled out of the joint, we definitely outdid ourselves on the food front but it was absolutely delicious.

Hummus, falafel, naan bread. HEAVEN!

Tomorrow C, B and myself are heading out of the city to explore Kathmandu valley. But now its time for a hummus-induced food coma to commence!

J. X

Uyuni Salt Flats – Day 1

With Machu Picchu, Rainbow Mountain and La Paz crossed off the official bucket list, I was ready to tick another big item off my agenda. The Uyuni Salt Flats was one of those places I’ve dreamed of being at for a long time and finally my time had come! With my travel buddies Alex, Tommy and Sean, I caught the bus from Potosi to Uyuni.

The bus ride in itself was gorgeous, huge valleys and massive mountains surrounded the road and as we got closer to Uyuni the landscape changed dramatically to desert and the excitement started to build up inside of me. We arrived into Uyuni right before sunset and were ambushed by people selling salt flat tours. One lady sold us with her offer of free accommodation for tonight so we followed her into her office and bargained for the best price. Deciding to do a four-day tour we whittled her down to 900 Bolivianos, which covered everything – that’s about $165 for four days, not too shabby!

We were led to the hostel, which ended up being the same hostel we intended on staying at anyway and dropped our gear off to go find dinner. Tired from the bus ride we opted for the easy option and found a restaurant and ordered some (expensive) burgers. As the tour didn’t leave until 11am the next morning, we decided to just head back to the hostel to chill and organise everything in the morning.

The following morning we packed up, grabbed breakfast and supplies for the trip (cookies and chocolate!) and met our tour guide and car. We had scored and gotten a Lexus four-wheel drive however were told we would only have her for the day because we were joining another group tomorrow. Naming her Sexy Lexie we chucked our bags on the roof, hooked up the speaker and began our journey! The first stop was the train cemetery, which seemed to be the first stop for every trip as there were about forty other cars there! The four of us had nicknamed ourselves Team GoPro because we were all proud owners of GoPro’s and selfie sticks so as soon as we got out of the car, Team GoPro was rearing to go!

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Playing at the train cemetery

If you could imagine four adults running around like dickheads with cameras attached to a stick than you’ll get an idea of how we looked. Not ones to be ashamed we climbed all over the decrepit trains and took more selfies than Kim Kardashian. It was a little hard to capture the train cemetery without a bunch of tourists milling around but we tried our hardest. Afterwards we jumped back in Sexy Lexie and drove onto the next stop.

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Train cemetery
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On the road to nowhere
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Day One = too much energy to tourist properly

This next stop was a repeat of the train cemetery as we parked up next to another row of four-wheel drives. My dreams of a desolate salt flat were slowly fading as I walked through about six peoples photos. This stop was a quickie, just to look at the salt mounds. Luckily our car was a little slower than other groups so after we waited 10 minutes of so we only had to share the place with a few other people. Despite the hordes of tourists, it was magical being on the salt flats. This weird and wonderful landscape blew my mind and burnt my retinas – going without sunglasses is a big rookie error!

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Salt mounds left out to dry for collection
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Yoga pose on point

Jumping back in the car, we drove for another 15 minutes or so until we reached our destination for lunch. Another place overrun by tourists, we managed to park out the back and enjoy our lunch looking out at a quiet salt flats. After lunch Team GoPro assembled and proceeded to take about another thousand photos and videos. The excitement of finally being at the salt flats was too much for the four of us and we couldn’t contain ourselves. However I think after a day or two of this intense GoPro-ing we won’t be so enthusiastic.

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Sahh happy to be here!
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Spreading the Nicholas Cage love around the world

After lunch we jumped back in Sexy Lexie and drove for an hour and a half across the salt flats to our hostel for the night. It was a crazy feeling speeding across the flats, with only one another car passing us in the that time. This was starting to feel more like an adventure, not like being herded around like sheep. We arrived at the hostel are the place was desolate. The small village was squashed between the salt flats and the large volcano that sat behind it. We waited in the hot sun until the owners of the hostel came to greet us. I have to say; Bolivians aren’t the most welcoming of people. I guess they aren’t as used to tourism as the other countries are. After experiencing the warmth and friendliness of the Peruvians, it was hard to adjust to the somewhat frosty reception we had been receiving from the Bolivians. Nonetheless, the hostel owners took us in, showed us our rooms and left us to it. We had all afternoon to ourselves, with the only thing on the agenda being to see the sunset. With all this free time and space we did what any self-respecting tourist would do – run around like losers on the empty salt flats. We took our GoPro’s and music speaker out to the desolate flats and danced and ran around like small children. We were the only four people on this part of the salt flat and the unusual landscape brought out a wacky side in all of us. As silly as we must have looked to the locals, it was one of the most fun afternoons I’ve had.

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Alpaca love
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So cute!

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Team GoPro – dropping an album within months
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My first flamingo sighting!

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We headed back inside for tea and bikkies and to layer up for the upcoming sunset. While it was scorching hot during the day, the chilly weather comes to play at night. We rugged up and got the camera ready for an epic sunset. Racing out just as the sun dropped, we watched as the sky turned into a kaleidoscope of colours. The blues, the pinks, and the purples – it was gorgeous! The salt flats glowed under the last embers of the sun and it truly was one of the most surreal sunsets I’ve seen. We headed back in for dinner once it got dark and then headed back out later that night to witness the unreal sky, full of so many stars that even Coldplay would be impressed. It was funny to hear the others gush over the star-filled sky, as it was a rare occurrence for them to see some many because they are from the city. I forget how lucky I am having grown up in the country where a starry sky is the norm. Not saying I wasn’t impressed though, the clear sky had brought on a seriously cool lightshow. We headed back inside frozen from the chilly air and headed to bed. Tomorrow we were planning to hike up the volcanic mountain and see some more of the salt flats, so we needed some serious shut-eye!

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Salt flat sunsets

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Stay tuned for tomorrows events!

J. x

Snorkelling and Volcanic Sunsets.

Our last day in Maui!

The last couple of days went by so fast. We’d been nearly all around the island, been through coastal, rainforest and volcanic landscapes and eaten our body weight in M&Ms (they have some many different kinds!)

We had big plans for a massive last day in Maui so we woke early ready for more adventures. Grabbing another delicious acai bowl from the Farmacy we then headed south past Kihei to Makena in hopes in finding Turtle Town. We’d come across Turtle Town on the internet which promised heaps of turtles all year round in this elusive bay. After finding the bay, we discovered that a) the Internet lied again and b) snorkelling in a choppy ocean is not a good time. Giving up on the turtle hunt, we sunbaked for awhile before heading back to Kihei for lunch. We were feeling way too lazy to do anything productive so after another ABC lunch (aka whatever random things we found at the convenience store) we sprawled out on the beach once more, trying to get at least a shade darker. It was crazy how un-sunburnt we were getting. I know sun-baking frowned upon but we spent days and days in the sun without getting any darker. If we had tried this at home we would be looking like tomatoes. I guess the hole in the ozone layer isn’t so big over Hawaii, we were pretty well protected.

Deciding to finally be active we went for a snorkel for the last time. Buying our own snorkel set was probably the smartest thing we did. It was so nice to get out anywhere and be able to go for a snorkel. It also helps that Hawaii has reefs right on the beach. Within metres you can see the coral and sea life. We snorkelled for awhile, checking out the fish and coral until we came across a beautiful green sea turtle. He/She was just gorgeous and I spent at least 40 minutes floating above him/her going about their day. Turtles seemed to have the cruisiest life. Just floating about, eating seaweed and making friends with lost clownfish. I watched the turtle until he swam off into the distance before I headed back to the shore.

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My new buddy! Could have watched him all day
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Hello Crush!
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L hanging out with our new mate
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Turtle love ❤

We hung out by the beach for the rest of the afternoon, only moving from the sand to the shade in the grass for a quick nanna nap. While we didn’t do as much as we had planned, it was nice to just chill out and relax. After running around Oahu and Maui ticking off bucket list items, it was great to just stop and have a break.Though as always it didn’t last long, we had one big thing to do before we left Maui. Around 4pm we grabbed a Coke ($1.50 for an XL, I need to leave Maui before my pants don’t fit), filled up the Jeep and headed towards the Haleakala National Park to catch the sunset.

Haleakala is Hawaiian for ‘house of the sun’. From Kihei it took us about two hours to reach the summit. While the distance wasn’t long, the road was super windy and we kept stopping in awe of the view. It was crazy; from the bottom of the volcano the weather turned bad with a heavy fog surrounding us. We drove through the white mist, laughing about how we chose the worst day to witness the sunset – we couldn’t even see 10 metres in front of us. However as we climbed higher, we drove out of the fog and back into sunshine and blue skies. Below us sat the heavy fog and created the most amazing view!

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Above the clouds and on top of the world
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K taking in the beautiful view

We reached the summit at approximately 10,000 feet and quickly changed into warmer clothes. The air was fresh and cool up here which was a stark contrast to the hot weather by the beach. We raced over to the edge to find a good viewing spot and waited patiently for its descent. According to my dear friend Wikipedia, the summit area of Haleakala ranks one of the best sites in the world for viewing the night sky due to having almost zero light pollution, above turbulent atmospheric conditions and little atmosphere. And I had to agree, the sky was flawless.

The sky turned from blue to pink to orange. The clouds looked out out of this world as they glowed in the last of the days sun. It was definitely one of the nicest sunsets I’d ever seen. However the beauty of the sunset also brought on a little sadness. It was like a metaphor for the trip, it had been so beautiful but it had to end. Tomorrow we fly back to Oahu for a final day before K and L head back to Australia and I continue onto Peru – which was slightly scary to think about!

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#nofilter
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It was like being on another planet
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Bye sun
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After the sun descended we turned around to this incredible view

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We left the summit as the sky turned to black and made our way back to the Banana Bungalow. First we made a dinner stop at Whole Foods, picking up some wine and cheese to toast the end of our trip. K and L had never been to a Whole Foods before so we spent a good 45 minutes in there wandering through the aisles lost in the decision making process. Finally immersing from the store with way more food than we intended we set up a perch for dinner in the common area at the Banana Bungalow and devoured our Whole Foods feast.

Tomorrow brings an early start as we have to be at the airport for our flight to Oahu at 9am.

J. x