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Imagine. Witness. Explore.

Published: 02-Jan-2012

Written by: Raw Wildlife Encounters

I had thought I knew what to expect.

As the plane descended through the towering cumulus, I glimpsed the city below. It appeared through patches in the cloud, grey and dusty, red bricks, dirty roads and windowless buildings. I could not tell whether the city was being built or falling down. The panic rose as more of the crumbling city emerged, and I realised that none of my research had prepared me for flying into Kathmandu.

Clearing customs and immigration without a hitch, we exited the airport and were set upon by the mob of touts, intent on ferrying us to the hotel that paid them the best commission. Grateful that my first attempt at organising an overseas trip had included booking the first night in a hotel with airport transfers, we were soon whisked away from the melee by a quiet and attentive hotel driver. Taking refuge in the sanctuary of the car did little to subdue my growing apprehension, I wanted to go home.

As we drove through the city I realised this was my first glimpse of real poverty, and it was with a sense of guilt and awe that we were delivered at a hotel lobby of polished marble and chandeliers.

The following day we wandered the streets and moved to less salubrious accommodation in the backpacker area. Intimidated by what lay in wait outside, I spent most of the first week, in or close to the hostel.

I don't recall the exact moment the shift occurred, perhaps close to the end of the trip. Leaving the city and travelling to Pokhara, and Chitwan, opened my eyes to the beauty of travelling. In Pokhara we climbed mountains and heard stories of Tibetan displacement. In Chitwan we saw wild elephant, rhino, langur and sloth bear. By the time we returned to Kathmandu the fear that had kept me chained to the room of our hostel, had vanished, and what replaced it has never gone.

I could not get enough. Out on the streets every minute, I absorbed as much as I could, before boarding the plane back to Australia.

Today, as I continue to plan my next trip, I reflect on the experiences I have had during my travels, and how they have changed me. Being surrounded by migrating dolphins in Galapagos, seeing Cotton top Tamarins in the forests of Colombia, watching a culture being destroyed in Tibet and rebuilt in Cambodia. I have developed a taste for hot food in Sichuan and hot sauce in Barbados, found good friends in Vietnam and love in Cuba.

I am no longer overwhelmingly intimidated by flying into cities so unlike mine as Kathmandu, the trepidation is mixed with excitement of the unknown, anticipation of the unique tastes, smells, and experiences I will have.

I review the scribbled notes made earlier this year, in a hotel in Quito; ‘Costa Rica, look at volunteer opportunities, Belize, diving’ it reads, ‘two weeks on a catamaran, island hopping from Cartagena to Panama’.

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