This is a fun travel story that just popped up from my memory banks. I’ll begin by referencing a bit from comedian Michelle Wolf, in which she suggests walking up to the front desk at a hotel, crying, and say, “This was supposed to be my honeymoon!” and you will get great treatment. Well, I tried that. Accidentally. Here’s the story.
Back in 2013, I was working in the Sultanate of Oman. We were in our winter break, and Oman pays its university professors well. Unlike the Korean won, the Omani rial is a hard-hitting currency. When I sent 500 OMR home to my U.S. bank account, it exploded into $1300. I loved it. And, of course, I had money to fly.
A friend of mine and I decided to travel to Nepal and poke around Kathmandu for a week or so, maybe head down to Chitwan to go on safari and peep at the elephants and the rhinos and maybe even see a tiger in the wild. One of the last tigers in the wild, something the next generation may NEVER be able to see. My friend left early, having found a cheap flight right off the bat, and then suggested the trip to me, telling me where to book. I booked, but got a flight for the following day. So we flew in separately.
I arrived in Kathmandu in mid-February, and was hoping to see snow. I figured, being so close to Mt. Everest, there would be snow, and all of the movies about Tibet and Nepal from my childhood suggested not only snow but also Yetis. Imagine my chagrin when, while waiting for my friend to come meet me outside the airport, I was chatting with the cab drivers and they told me it hadn’t snowed in Kathmandu in twelve years. Damn global warming!
When my friend arrived, we climbed into a taxi and headed into Kathmandu proper. Specifically, the Tamel district, which is the touristy area with all the cool shops. The place looked like Shakedown Street from a Grateful Dead concert, like the band may have moved on but the Deadheads had stayed and build themselves a town. And there were, indeed, people wandering around offering amusing recreationals. On our first night out, we bought weed from our tuk-tuk driver. When I went to Boudhanath, I joined the crowd in walking clockwise around the Boudha Stupa, the shrine in which, legend holds, the bones of the original Buddha are interned. Each time I completed a rotation, there was a strange little Tibetan man who would lock eyes with me and say, “Mushrooms?” At first I declined, being out in the open in a foreign country and all. But by my third pass, he had me intrigued. And he did, indeed, have mushrooms.
Nepal is a cool little country with a magical feel, all tucked away in the Himalayas. In my short time there, I had a few great adventures. I stayed with a local family who lived in a shanty town behind Bhoudhanath. They showed me around Kathmandu, and taught me how to properly pray in the various temples. And they made me some amazing tea. I met shop owners, who also made me amazing tea, and I bought gifts for my niece and nephew back home. I met pilots in a local pub called The Buddha Bar, and arranged for a flight around Mt. Everest. I wanted to try to get into Tibet, but due to restrictions put in place by the draconian Chinese occupational forces, it would have taken weeks if not months to get legal passage. So a plane was the next best option. I’ll never forget waking up in my hotel, still in my clothes from the night before, as one of the pilots pounded on my door. “Sir! It’s time to go!” Hungover as hell, I staggered out and we made it to the airport. They even let me “take the yoke” for a bit. I snapped a picture and they wisely removed me from the controls as we got closer to the mountain.
But I digress. This story is supposed to be about me playing the dumped chump on a non-existent honeymoon. My travel companion and I spent most of our time doing our own things on this trip. She liked the touristy stuff, and I liked the seedy underbelly. But we had made plans to meet up a the local bus stop on our fifth morning to take a bus south to the Chitwan region to go on safari to see the local fauna. We booked the trip through our hotel together, and I guess assumptions were made. On the morning of our departure, I arrived on the bus ready to go. Just before the bus rolled out, the tour guide came over to me and said, very apologetically, “I am sorry, sir, but your lady friend has said that she is not feeling well and will not be accompanying you this morning. She says she will take a later bus.”
I, of course, being eager to get on the road and see the outlying countryside, thought nothing of it and shrugged it off. It was a beautiful three-hour ride along the most windy mountain-side goat paths you have ever seen. Far below us, the turquoise waters of the Narayani River wound between the rocky green mountains. We passed nude young women bathing their rich brown skin in a waterfall. We saw all sorts of greenery, bedecked with the jewelry of brilliantly-plumaged birds. And at one point, we even passed the remains of a bus just like ours that had gone off the road and plummeted into a gorge. Very reassuring.
After the exciting ride, our bus pulled into Chitwan Terminal and I disembarked with the other passengers. I stood in the parking lot, taking in my new, dusty surroundings. I wasn’t there long. A man came over to me as the other passengers departed. He wasn’t just a concierge. He was the flippin’ owner of the safari resort we had booked. He took my bag, and I got into the backseat of his Jeep behind him and his driver. As we drove to the resort, he assured me that all of my needs and requests would be seen to. I was feeling mighty important. Was I the only guest these guys were expecting this year?
Of course, I wasn’t. When we got to the resort, they showed me to my suite, showed me how the local outlets worked to charge my phone, etc., and gave me the schedule of the local blackouts. Nepal has roving blackouts due to energy demands, even in Kathmandu. Every hotel room is equipped with one generator-powered light to assist guests when the power was routinely cut off. Then my host told me once I had settled in to make my way to the resort restaurant and he would meet me for dinner. I felt like this was my own little Fantasy Island, and he was my Mr. Rourke. Why did I, just another lowly backpacker, warrant such privileged treatment? When I went to the restaurant and he came out to meet me for dinner, I found out why.
As we sat under the attentive waiter’s watchful eye, the owner of the resort asked me if I wanted anything to drink. I asked for a whiskey, feeling like the end of a dusty road after a long day’s travel warranted such a drink. Soon a bottle of Johnny Walker Black was on our table, and as the waiter poured our drinks, the owner explained that my meals would, of course, be comped. Also, he had arranged a private tour of the safari lands for me. I would be given my own personal guide. I expressed my surprise, commenting that surely they don’t treat all their guests so well. So what gives? He became quiet. When the waiter had finished the pouring and left, my host grew somber.
“Sir,” he said, looking down at the table. “If I may speak with you on a personal matter?” I told him he certainly could as I sipped my whiskey. He explained, embarrassed (for me, I suspect) that my “fiancé” had phoned the hotel to let them know she would not be arriving on a later bus after all. She had, as it turns out, decided not to come at all. It seemed the wedding, or the marriage or whatever, was off.
But this was supposed to be my honeymoon! – Michelle Wolf
Well, what could I do but man up, roll with the punches, and be a kind and gracious guest? Long story short, I had a helluva weekend, drinking fine whiskey, eating free food, and enjoying not one but TWO private tours of the local safari lands. My guide was awesome. I got pictures of deer, crocodiles, rhinoceroses, amazing jungle scenery… but sadly, no tigers. We did spot a tiger’s footprint — and it was fresh! — but we did not see the actual tiger. Still, I got to see endangered rhinos in the wild, and even got close enough to one that my guide asked me, “Can you climb a tree?” Apparently the rhino’s eyesight isn’t so good, but their hearing is very keen, and the Velcro on my camera bag had gotten one big lady’s attention.
On my last morning before my departure, I did something that I am not proud of. I claim ignorance as I truly did not know of the plight. But here it is: I rode an elephant. It just seemed like something you should do once in your life. My guide picked me up on his motorbike just as the sun was peeking over the horizon and the mist was still all around. We sped down the empty streets to the elephant sanctuary and breeding ground. This was a place where female elephants, which could be tamed, were chained up so that the wild male elephants could roam in at night and impregnate them. It is indeed slavery. These female elephants were chained and were essentially being raped. But it was all in the name of making more elephants — keeping the world supply of these endangered gentle giants alive. So I have mixed feelings about that. On a lighter note, once impregnated, the females were treated like royalty. They were taken out of the elephant brothel and given free roam of a quiet, protected pasture and fed only the finest plants. Did you know a female elephant carries her baby to term for nearly two years? Imagine that if you dare. And when the baby was born, they were given continued maternity leave before they were put back to work. For better or worse, their child was allowed to accompany them. Say what you will, this is still a far better maternity leave than women in the United States are given.
Anyway, I rode one of these poor beasts and I feel terrible about it. At first, I was disappointed to learn that I wouldn’t be sitting alone directly behind the elephant’s head, like you see in the Tarzan movies. I would be forced to endure the indignation of sharing a basket atop the elephant with three other tourists, one to a corner to balance out the basket. Fortunately, the other tourists were a group of Koreans, and I know Koreans. I could speak a little bit of Korean to them and share in the group experience. Still, after three days of being spoiled, treated like the most important guest this resort had ever seen, I couldn’t help but feel a bit insulted.
I didn’t consider the elephant herself until I saw the way the driver — who did get to sit directly behind her head like in a Tarzan movie — continually moved her forward by jabbing his toes into what appeared to be very tender spots right behind her big, floppy ears. He would also swat her with a tree branch. I have since learned that these amazing beings endure horrible torture to be trained to carry us idiot humans around the jungle. I know I am a total hypocrite now for saying this, but DO NOT RIDE ELEPHANTS. For the same reasons you should not patronize circuses that use animals in their performances. There was a bit of jovial gratification when, at one point, the elephant seemed to stop and refuse to go any further. The driver jabbed her with his toes, swatted her with his stick… and then she reached her snaking trunk up and pulled a broken limb out of a tree — and swatted the driver right back! Hit the fucker right on the noggin! Everyone had a laugh, including the driver, and then the elephant trundled on.
Later that morning, the resort owner, his driver, and my guide accompanied me back to the bus terminal. They again told me what a delight it was to have me there, and that they sincerely wished it had been under happier circumstances. I told them not to worry about it, I had had a wonderful time (and I really had!), and that I would happily recommend the resort to anyone who asked. And I would. If I could remember the name.
I was back in Kathmandu later that very afternoon, perusing the shops on Tamel’s Freak Street. If you haven’t been, I highly recommend it. And, of course, I highly recommend visiting the safari resorts in Chitwan. Nepal is a brilliant country, and the Nepalese have a kindness that it is hard to come by in this brave new world. I dare say of all of the places I have been, Nepal just may be my very favorite.
It’s even better if you’ve been dumped.