Nepal is nothing if not one big adventure. This was true for us from the moment we left the airport, hurtling through the dark and the rain on foreign streets while shopkeepers looked on and the hotel hawker who'd jumped in our cab babbled endlessly. It was true as we wandered the Kathmandu streets the first few days, dodging motorbikes, cars, pedestrians and dogs, while also trying to ingest the massive amount of sensory input. And it was true on the seven hour bus ride to Chitwan that took us along the edge of 500 meter cliffs overlooking a river while our driver played chicken with each oncoming vehicle. But the moment it all came into clear focus was the day after we reached the farm and Padam, a trained jungle guide, had us, our co-volunteer Madalina, and three volunteers from the orphanage next door walking through thick brush and scrawny trees while the thunderous (truly) sound of a seven year old wild rhino passed us unseen.
What to do? Keep tracking it until you can see it, of course, but if it runs at you (at 40km/hr), run perpendicular. We only saw it briefly and partially covered that first day, but less than two weeks later were back in the jungle with another group staring down into a pond where some of our co-volunteers had just witnessed two of them fighting. After one of them lumbered off away from us, this one got out to sun itself and, seemingly, pose for a photo op before wandering off as well:
There's something kind of incredible (not to mention humbling) about being just another animal in the forest around such huge and powerful creatures. The day before departing the farm we were treated to the rare opportunity of seeing three baby rhinos up close - an experience entirely different, but no less magical than the above, given that they're still wild. All three were orphans and are left to roam the jungle during the day, but are being helped along during their early years to survive without their parents. When I say up close I refer to the feeling of their leathery armor under our hands and the goo trying to escape their nostrils smudging into my shoes.
In writing about adventures, it must be noted that transportation around the country is an adventure in itself. I mentioned the cliffs and the games of chicken, but there is also the loud Nepali pop music on the bus speakers, the goats and people riding on top, and the overselling of pretty much every available inch of space. On the 3.5 hour drive from Chitwan to Pokhara, Casey and I had the chance to really contemplate the latter part of this as the 26 people in our 18 seat minibus looked on in amusement at her sitting on my lap; the lady next to us working her way through multiple barf bags, the guys next to us seeming genuinely worried for my future child producing capabilities. If I could've moved any part of me in any direction I would've grabbed the camera and taken a picture of the situation. Alas. This isn't entirely different from the day we met the above mentioned baby rhinos when 10 of us called this mighty steed our ride:
I also don't think I can discount the smallest of adventures we had - perhaps typical of any country where tall, very pale folks such as myself show up in remote and extremely rural villages - on our many walking trips to...pretty much anywhere. As we would pass any of the houses with kids it would usually go something like this:
Us: "Hello! Namaste!"
Us: "Casey/Eli. What is your name?"
...and so on and so forth, sometimes including a request for chocolate (ridiculous not only for the obvious, but also the heat which, at around 100° F and somewhere in the 90% range for humidity, would have liquified any such delightful treat), other times granting us a new companion for the equivalent of a couple blocks as we made our way along the dirt road. At other times, the almost desperation for a social outlet or foreign friend was clear. Casey spent some time next to a millet field with a sassy thirteen year old that was not only keen to take pictures together, but also dramatically forceful in making sure her new friend didn't leave (even for dinner).
These bigger adventures are necessary as we travel. They speed up the pulse and change things up in exciting ways. But we've learned, if we didn't know already, that the smaller ones are equally necessary - slowing time down more and heightening our awareness of ourselves and others as we enter into these new communities and friendships, even if they only last a few blocks.