Chitwan National Park, Nepal – October 2010

Greater One-Horned Rhinos

The first night we stayed in Chitwan, the Park was buffeted by a huge rainstorm, bringing down trees near the tent we stayed in and wiping out large portions of the road in the park.

Elephant ride in the morning fog

As such, over the next three days, our only method of travel was by elephant. While the mode of transport isn’t the most comfortable, it’s the only true all-terrain vehicle in the jungle there. We spent hours on the giant beasts, walking through tall elephant grass, following tiger tracks (we never found one), and spotting monkeys, deer and the one-horned rhinos that the park is famous for.

During one expedition, we came across a trio of rhinos crossing the river (the three pictured at the top of this page). We watched them as they fought through the current and up on to the shore. At that point, they noticed us – and one put its head down and charged! It is intimidating to have a four or five tonne animal racing towards you, and our elephant was certainly not immune to that. She turned to flee, but was brought back by a sharp whack from the mahout.

Eye contact

He turned her back to face the rhino head-on who quickly realized the size mismatch he was racing in to. Beaten, the rhino turned sharply left and ran off after his two companions as we finally started breathing again.

While we continued to see rhinos constantly in Chitwan, some at very close quarters, I’m happy to say that was the only one who bothered to charge us.

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Glacier National Park, USA – August 2010

Glacier National Park

Scrambling across the island

With a long weekend to work with, we jumped in the car and headed for Glacier National Park in Montana with plans to camp, hike and look for wildlife. We were not to be disappointed on the wildlife front. Very shortly after driving in to the Park, we came across our first “bear jam” as cars parked along the road with tourists straining to see a black bear and her cubs. A short while further, we came across another black bear family. Then a grizzly bear and her cub. Then more black bears. The rangers were out, trying in vain to keep people in their cars and with a little more success, from straying from the road.

Mama looks back to her cubs

All in all, we’d see 17 bears that day, with the most exciting encounter coming that evening. We were parked near a small waterfall and I scrambled up to the top of a rock ledge to get a better angle. As I got to the top, across the river from me a mother black bear and her cubs came out of the forest. The mother jumped in the river and started swimming across. Safe high up on my ledge, I motioned frantically to Megan to come see, as the mother huffed back at her two babies who still stood on the far shore looking doubtfully at the cold water. After mother’s call, both plunged in and swam across, stopping briefly to scramble across a small (and dry) island along the way. I do question the wisdom of the mother bear’s decision though – while all made it safely to shore, the fast moving current moved the cubs significantly downstream towards another waterfall.

Given the extreme amount of bear activity, we decided in the end that the hiking part of the trip would have to be curtailed. After all, we’d already seen bears as close as we needed to!

A little too close to the falls!

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Mount Everest – October 2010

Mount Everest

At 5,545 metres above sea level, Mt. Everest Base Camp was the highest point we have reached in any of our travels to date.  The altitude had been a challenge since we set foot in Tibet, where even at our lowest elevations (approximately 3,650M in Lhasa) we were higher than most of the peaks in the Rocky Mountains back home.   Despite taking Diamox to ward against altitude sickness, even going up a flight of stairs was enough to make us breathless.  Our Tibetan guide constantly reminded us to move “slowly, slowly” as we walked around the various cities, monasteries and temples.  When you forgot to heed her warning, the occasional headache served as a reminder of the dangers of over-exerting yourself at high altitude.

This day though we had gone even higher.  China paved a road to base camp ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics so that the Olympic Flame

Megan and the Inukshuk

could be brought here and it was that road that brought us to the small ring of tents that serve as the launch point for the summit of Everest, a mere 3,400 metres higher yet!

Upon reaching our destination, I took photos and Megan built an Inukshuk, but we were surprised to hear a group arrive cheering.  They had cycled all the way up the road!  They broke in to song and cracked a well-earned bottle of champagne while staring up at Everest above.

The victorious cyclists admire the mountain

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Bangkok, Thailand – October 2010

Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho

With only a single day to explore Bangkok, we set an ambitious schedule.  We’d start at the Grand Palace, then hit Wat Pho, the Marble Temple and finish at Wat Arun.  As we toured the palace and visited the gigantic Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho, all seemed to be going to plan.  It was still monsoon season in Thailand though, and we got poured on as we left Wat Pho to the point where we needed to seek sanctuary in another of the temples.

Our tuk tuk en route to the Marble Temple

When the downpour relaxed, we set out again, but realizing we weren’t covering enough distance, we decided to hail a tuk tuk – a three-wheeled motorized rickshaw – and asked to be taken to the Marble Palace.  Bangkok is famous for less-than-honest cabbies though, and this one immediately started up with a scam that I had fortunately read about, trying to convince us that the temple was closed, and that he could take us somewhere else instead.  We insisted on our destination and as we got close he admitted he might have been mistaken and it might be open (shockingly, it was).  He decided to wait for us as we toured the temple but when we climbed back in, he told us he was going to take us to a shopping mall en route to Wat Arun.  We refused and argued for some time, even after he told me about the money he’d receive for taking us to the mall.  Finally, frustrated, he told us to get out of his tuk tuk and find another if we weren’t going to go where he wanted!

We found a cab shortly thereafter who took us directly to Wat Arun with no fuss – and so we tipped handsomely for his honesty!

Wat Arun – our final destination on a rainy day in Bangkok

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Paris, France – September 2009

Arc de Triomphe – during the first visit

While both of us had an opportunity to explore Paris alone en route to Southern Africa, we had a very quick opportunity to see it together on the way home. However, our flight was delayed leaving Johannesburg, meaning we had significantly less time when we landed than we had originally anticipated. Nonetheless, I wanted to try to rush to see Sacre Coeur , so we hopped a train away from Charles de Gaulle airport and headed in to the city.

Sacre Coeur – we made it!

What I hadn’t realized is that Sacre Coeur is no where near a train station, and it’s positioned at a high point in the city, so we ended up hiking uphill through the city with time our constant enemy. Megan, who hadn’t slept much on our overnight flight was not overly excited to be trudging through the city and even less excited about the idea of missing our plane. We finally arrived at the basilica but with little time to spare, I had to settle for a few quick shots outside the church.

Hurrying away, we hoped to grab a taxi back, but there was a street market that day and several blocks seemed to be closed to automobile traffic. It appeared to be a lovely little market, but we had no time to appreciate it and just hurried through. We finally reached a large busy street but how to hail a cab here? Nearby I saw a restauranteur opening up for the day. The perfect picture of a restauranteur in Paris, he wore and apron and a moustache and was sweeping the step in front of his store. I speak but poor French, and he spoke no English, but I somehow managed to explain to him our predicament. He ran in to the road, waving his arm, and seconds later we were in a cab heading back to the airport and to home.

Sacre Coeur Bell Tower – snapped as we made our hasty retreat

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