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

Castles before the Causeway.

We left early from our little B&B in Loch Lomond with a mission to be in Stanraer by noon to catch the ferry over to Northern Ireland. Though of course, we had a do one last castle in Scotland and did a flying visit through Culzean Castle, which was absolutely magnificent.

The grand Culzean Castle. Behind her is the ocean!
The grand Culzean Castle. Behind her is the ocean!

The entire property included a walled garden, a swan pond, deer paddocks and of course, the grandest looking castle I’ve seen in Scotland! The Culzean Castle is the former home of Marquess of Ailsa, the chief of Clan Kennedy.

The entrance gates to the Culzean
The entrance gates to the Culzean

The most impressive rooms were the armoury rooms and the grand oval staircase. It was unfortunate that we had to rush through because you could easily waste a day there enjoying the royal vibes.

A canoe bed! Looks pretty cosy!
A canoe bed! Looks pretty cosy!
One wall in the armoury room. Thats a whole lotta pistols!
One wall in the armoury room. Thats a whole lotta pistols!
A royal stag.
A royal stag.

Jumping on the freeway, we managed to make it to the ferry dock with five minutes to spare. Mum and Dad with their forward thinking had booked us into Premium Loading so we drove straight onto the ferry and had first pick of seats onboard. Go parents!

The ferry ride was uneventful but pleasant as we had scored lounge seats right near the window. Definitely opt for Premium Loading if you’re taking the ferry from Scotland to Ireland, well worth the extra pounds! It took about two and a half hours to reach Larne and us Premium Loading folks were first off the ship. There were about four or five guys with their Ferrari’s and other super fast cars that I know nothing about surrounding us. They had been revving their engines, showing off when we were loading and disembarking. It backfired on one guy in a red Ferrari though, his clutch stopped working just before the disembarking begin, leaving him a little red-faced!

We left the embarrassed Ferrari guy behind and speeded up towards Bushmills, where we would be staying for the night. We had plans to see the Giant’s Causeway the following morning but decided it would be better to visit in the fading sunlight, and boy, weren’t we correct.

Driving towards Bushmills
Driving towards Bushmills

The Giant’s Causeway is essentially a free attraction to see. You can pay to visit the information centre and have a tour guide, but seriously, all you want to do is see the crazy rock formations in real life. We walked down the Causeway, (which was actually a bit of a hike!) admiring the green, lush coastline. As we reached the Giant’s Causeway, it was hard not to be in awe of what nature can create.

Walking to the Giants Causeway
Walking to the Giants Causeway

The 40,000 interlocking basalt formations spread themselves along the coastline and the hexagonal shaped rocks are somewhat similar to bee’s honeycomb. The formations are a result of a volcanic eruption about 50 million years ago. Though, like most natural wonders, there is a legend about how it way created.  According to Gaelic mythology, the basalt columns are the remains of a causeway created by the Irish giant Fionn man Cumhaill (Finn MacCool). After being challenged to fight by Scottish giant Benandonner, Fionn accepted and built the causeway across the North Channel so the two giants could meet. In some stories, Fionn wins the battle, though in others he loses and destroys the causeway so no more battles can occur. Whatever way the story ended, the result of the rock formation has fascinated humans for many years.

Result of volcanic eruption or leftovers of a giant's path to battle?
Result of volcanic eruption or leftovers of a giant’s path to battle?
Admiring the honeycomb rocks
Admiring the honeycomb rocks

We climbed and clambered over the honeycomb shaped rocks and watched the sky turn all shades of gold and blue with the disappearing sun. Definitely was a smart choice to visit in the late afternoon.  We caught the last bus back up the hill and drove the 200 metres to where we were staying for the night, at the Ballylinny Holiday Cottages.

Seeing more of Northern Ireland tomorrow!

 

J. x

Glencoe, you took my breath away..

So after Loch Ness and Ben Nevis, we were pretty sure the A82 road couldn’t deliver anymore of the goods. Oh, weren’t we wrong!

After leaving the Aonach Mor and their breathtaking gondola rides, we kept on driving until we reached the area of Glencoe. So, before I purge out every possible descriptive word known to men to describe the Glencoe area, let me just say – if there is one place you go to in Scotland, one single place – make it Glencoe. Don’t get me wrong, the entire Highlands are beautiful but Glencoe is just the most glorious bit of country we covered in the UK. So glorious in fact, that we had to stop and get out of the car four times in the space of half an hour. It was just that damn impressive.

Panorama was the only way to shoot
Panorama was the only way to shoot
Taking it all in.
Taking it all in.

Unfortunately, I don’t have many photos to back up my claims. But in all honesty, no photo will do Glencoe justice. You just have to witness it yourself to understand why words and photos aren’t enough to grasp the incredible landscape.

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A lone sheep.
A lone sheep.

We passed through this part of the Highlands far too quickly despite all the stops we made. Before we knew it we had left Glencoe far behind and were approaching Loch Lomond. It was starting to get dark and we had been so sidetracked by our massive day that we had forgotten to book accommodation.

Luckily, the B&B scene was popping around Loch Lomond and a little old lady took us in for the night. She recommended dinner by the waterfront, which was superb. I think my eyes are starting to hurt from all the magnificent scenery that I’ve witnessed today. It has been seriously impressive.

Our final mountainous view over dinner, before the sun took the day away.
Our final mountainous view over dinner, before the sun took the day away.

Sleep came easy to us, being worn out from our huuuuge day in the Highlands. It was definitely short and sweet, but it was worth every second. I’m going to put it out there, best day on the road trip. No contest, at all. The only thing that would have made this day the best ever on record, would be if I had seen some Highland Cows. I can’t believe I didn’t see a single one. And I can’t believe how much time I spent glued to the window hoping to spot one! I guess I will just have to return. Bummer :p

Tomorrow we’re off to Northen Ireland! Ticking off another new country!

J. x

Head in the clouds.

In my true family fashion, we were jam-packing our days to the absolute last second. After we’d ticked off Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle, we were speeding towards the highest mountain in the British Isles, Ben Nevis.

Ben, of course, had been looming over us for awhile now but as we got closer, the colossal size of him and his mountain-y friends was beginning to overwhelm me. Standing at 1,344 metres above sea level, Ben is the peak of the Scottish Highlands.

We hadn’t intended to stop in at Ben, due to time restrictions but had spotted a sign for a gondola going up Aonach Mor, one of the mountains in the Ben Nevis range. Thinking we couldn’t pass the big fella without getting up amongst the clouds, we paid our money and jumped in the gondola and watched the people below us get smaller and smaller.

Going up the gondola
Going up the gondola

We scored an excellent day. The wind dropped as we reached the top of Aonach Mor and the fluffy clouds looked cartoon like against the perfect blue sky. We had even timed it perfectly so that the large group before us were heading back down as we walked off the gondola. There was a walking track which took you out to a higher peak on the mountain. Mum and I fast-tracked to the top point where the landscape made our jaws drop to the rocky ground. We could not only clearly see Ben Nevis and the Great Glen but the clear skies gave us a view spanning for miles. I know I say this a fair bit, but this was hands down, one of the best views I’ve ever seen.

Walking up the viewing point.
Walking up the viewing point.
Best.view. EVER!
Best.view. EVER!

Mum and I were the only two up here and it felt like we were on top of the world. The air tasted fresher and it made you feel pretty damn lucky that you are alive. We stayed up there for awhile, in awe of the view until other people started to come along. Heading into the cafeteria, we grabbed a bottle of water and jumped back in the gondola towards lower ground.

The gondola station which sits at 2150ft above the starting point.
The gondola station which sits at 2150ft above the starting point.

IMG_1756

 

We met Dad down at the bottom, stoked with what we had just experienced. I would have to say this has one of the best things I have done, thank God we decided to stop in!

We jumped back in the car and said goodbye to Ben and his hilly friends as we delved further down the A82.

Unbelievably, I’m not even finished my day of driving through the Highlands. Read on to see how we dealt with witnessing the most extraordinary places on Earth.

J. x

Searchin’ for Nessie.

Heyoo – Due to the last couple of weeks being an absolute blur, I’m a bit behind in my stories. I’m back home in Australia now, but am telling them as if I was still up to date with my travels. J.x 

We left Newtonmore and headed up to Inverness which we would bypass completely and head down one of the greatest driving roads known to man, the A82. 

The A82 is the road to drive down if you’re going from Inverness to Glasgow. Not only does it take you past Loch Ness, Loch Lomond and Ben Nevis. It winds you through the incredible Scottish landscapes, from the dark black lochs to the mountainous range in the Highlands.

Not a bad view to drive with..
Not a bad view to drive with..

We started our drive and before we knew it, the deep dark waters of Loch Ness were beside us. I always assumed Loch Ness was just a  big lake that you could walk around, but its actually bloody massive! We drove along for a good half an hour before pulling up for a coffee break. The water is jet black and apparently super deep, with its deepest point coming in at 230 metres. You could probably get to China from there! :p

Loch Ness on a beautiful sunny day - a rarity for Scotland.
Loch Ness on a beautiful sunny day – a rarity for Scotland.

Of course, the most famous aspect to Loch Ness is the elusive Loch Ness Monster. There have been many searches for old Nessie but is now regarded as a modern day myth. Nonetheless, the area surrounding Loch Ness sure market Nessie impressively. There are Nessie ciders, shirts, and even a Loch Ness Discovery Centre known as Nessieland. We skipped past it and headed towards Urquhart Castle, who stands grandly on the edge of Loch Ness.

Someone found Nessie! Or her long lost sister
Someone found Nessie! Or her long lost sister

The castle dates back to the 13th century and was mainly used as a royal residence. However due to many raids, the castle was abandoned in the 17th century until it was opened to the public in  the 20th century. It is one of the most visited castles in Scotland, due to its beautiful location and remarkably well kept ruins.

Urquhart Castle perched on the edge of Loch Ness
Urquhart Castle perched on the edge of Loch Ness
Urquhart Castle from afar
Urquhart Castle from afar

We jumped back in the car continued down the A82 until we reached the end of Loch Ness. Though our view wasn’t about to take a turn for the worse, as soon as Loch Ness finished, we were blessed with several other Lochs, including Loch Oich and Loch Lochy. The dark, still water contrasting against the mountains topped with fog were anything but an eyesore. This part of Scotland was just too good lookin’ for words.

Dad and I tempting Nessie..
Dad and I tempting Nessie..

While we didn’t find Nessie (though I swear I saw ripples!), the beautiful scenery kept up spirits high. We had only covered a part of the A82, but I was eager to see where the rest of the road took us.

Keep reading for what the rest of the Highlands brings us!

J. x

Cliffs, Gardens and a Fairytale Castle

We left Irene’s with a mission to fit in as much as we could for the day. First cab off the rank was the Buller’s of Buchan, which was v. v. exciting, as there are about three things in this world named after our last name Buchan. In Scotland however, it is lovely because we don’t have to spell out our last name all the time and its always pronounced correctly! Perks of having a Scottish heritage! What we didn’t realise is that there is an entire Buchan coastal route of the North-Eastern coast of Scotland, AND a bus line named after us… We were thrilled!

We followed our coastal road (yep I’m claiming it as my own) until we reached the spot where the Buller’s were supposed to be. There was a small car park and two tracks leading off in different direction so we took a punt and went for the one heading to the waters edge. It was about a five-minute walk to the edge and we were in awe of the rocky, cliff-faced coastline. The bright green grass contrasting with the dark brown cliffs were dramatic and sheer. It was surprisingly quiet though. There wasn’t much wind and the water was almost still. I had expected rough waters thrashing up again the cliffs but the quietness was somewhat peaceful.

Sheer cliffs and quiet seas. Welcome to the Buchan Coast
Sheer cliffs and quiet seas. Welcome to the Buchan Coast
The Buller's of Buchan in the distance
The Buller’s of Buchan in the distance

The Buller’s of Buchan refer to the collapsed sea cave and the adjacent village. It’s a pretty impressive bit of rock formation and also home to various kinds of seabirds, including puffins, fulmars and kittiwakes. I was hoping to see a puffin but unfortunately we were there at the wrong time of the year. We walked along the coastline a bit, taking the token photos with ‘our’ Buller’s before jumping back in the car to our next stop, the Pitmedden Gardens.

GoPro selfies had to be taken of course!
GoPro selfies had to be taken of course!

 

The Buller's of Buchan
The Buller’s of Buchan

The Pitmedden Gardens were about a 45 minute drive from the Buller’s, and we reached them in time for a light lunch before exploring the gardens. Shared a delicious sweet potato and coconut soup and a dang good Malteser Slice. We headed out into the gardens and was severely impressed by the detail and design in these flawless renaissance gardens. Dating back to 1675, the gardens were inspired by Charles’ II garden at Holyrood House in Edinburgh.

Pitmedden Gardens
Pitmedden Gardens

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Now owned by the National Trust, the grounds of Pitmedden are impeccably maintained and open to the public all year round. I was particularly impressed with the geometric designs and the brightly coloured snapdragon flowers. Reminded me of my grandmas old house where I used to play with the snapdragon flowers.

So many snapdragons!
So many snapdragons!
Beautiful snapdragons at Pitmedden Gardens
Beautiful snapdragons at Pitmedden Gardens

We jumped back in the car and drove towards our next stop – the Craigevar Castle. This castle stuck out to us due to pink colour and fairytale-esque looking design. Still in Aberdeenshire, we reached Craigevar in about an hour and rushed down the leafy, tree lined path until we reached the castle. Delighted that it actually was a light pink, we waited for the guided tour to start in the only way we knew how. By taking many, many photos of the castle!

The Disney-esque Craigevar Castle stands pretty in pink.
The Disney-esque Craigevar Castle stands pretty in pink.

Our tour guide was a young girl who knew so much about the history of Craigevar and the surrounding towns. The castle has stood like it is today since 1626. It was a family residence for over 350 years until it was handed over to the National Trust in 1963 and has been   a delight for tourists to discover in Scotland ever since.

 

Gardens and turrents at Craigevar
Gardens and turrents at Craigevar

After the castle we jumped back in the car and winded through the bendy and hairpin-filled roads until we reached our perch for the night. We had literally closed our eyes and pointed some on the map and landed on the popular little town of Newtonmore. We were staying at the Balavil Hotel, which served a rather scrumptious chocolate cake. The town stretched out along the main road and seemed to be popular with hikers and outdoorsy folk. Unfortunately we were flying through, so we barely got a chance to experience this cute little village.

Tomorrow morning we are off to find the Loch Ness Monster! Hope she’s feeling friendly!

J. x

Discovering St. Andrews..And the best Indian I’ve ever eaten..

Leaving Anstruther, we navigated through the foggy roads until we reached the town of St. Andrews. With no intention for a long stop, we just needed a coffee before continuing onto Aberdeen. However as we drove into St. Andrews and passed a huge old ruin of a church and graveyard, we pulled into to have a squiz at this ancient old wonder. As it turns out, St. Andrews Cathedral is quite a massive tourist attraction, which we were totally unaware of! There isn’t much left of the old cathedral but from the information given at the site, you can picture the vast building as it once might have looked.

St. Andrews Cathedral
St. Andrews Cathedral

We walked out of St. Andrews Cathedral and down around to the water to the St. Andrews Castle for a sneaky look, and then headed into the town centre to find a coffee. St. Andrews turned out to be a lot bigger than we had imagined, and also a lot more important than we gave it credit for. As it turns out, St. Andrews is home to one of the biggest golf competitions in the world, has a university aaaand is where Kate and Wills first met. Shame on us ignorant Aussies for being so unaware! We had a lovely coffee in the town centre and then hightailed ourselves out of there because we had spent much longer than anticipated in this grand little town.

St. Andrews Cathedral
St. Andrews Cathedral

The drive to Aberdeen didn’t take all that long and we found out accommodation much easier than we thought! Thank you Google maps! We were staying at the Highland Hotel, but were actually given our own little apartment across the road, which was a nice break from the one-room places we were staying at. Dad was keen for a rest so Mum and I made the most of our girl time by going shopping. We returned several hours later with a few too many bags but very pleased with all our purchases. I was now equipped for the cold North Scotland weather.

Feeling a bit over all the pub food we’d been having, we searched for a different cuisine tonight and settled for Monsoona Indian, which was absolutely incredible! If you are ever in Aberdeen, go here. The service is impeccable and the food is just .. it’s just.. Just go there! Hands down, the best Indian I have EVER eaten! Unfortunately I was super slack (or preoccupied by the deliciousness) that I took no photos of the meals. Just take my word for it!

The next morning we left Aberdeen to do a bit of family history searching. My Granda was born in Aberdeen and lived there until he moved to Australia. It was the main reason why we had come to Aberdeen. We had been given two addresses, one where Granda was born and the other was where we grew up. Both were in Torry, that lies on the south bank of the River Dee and has a strong fishing community. The houses we passed were grey and dreary. Similar to other cities in Scotland, there was just a lack of colour and life in this area. But it was interesting to see where my Granda grew up and how different his upbringing was to mine.

We drove out of Aberdeen to meet a cousin of my Dad’s in the town of Hatton. Irene was a lovely lady sat us down with a big cup of tea and some Scottish buns as we all caught up with each others lives. As Dad’s side of the family is quite small and most don’t live in Australia, its always nice to meet new relatives and learn about them.

Family reunions! Irene, Dad and myself
Family reunions! Irene, Dad and myself

As usual, time got the better of us and we had to say our goodbyes to Irene and leave Hatton for our next leg of the trip – the Scottish Highlands. I can’t wait to see a Highland Cow!

J. x

 

p.s – apologies for the lack of photos of Aberdeen. In all honesty, I saw the main shopping street and Torry. We just weren’t there very long!