Sometimes during a long trip on your own you feel sorry for yourself. This was one of those days. Yesterday was actually a good day with a manic hike up a beautiful mountain followed by a long scenic bus trip. At the end I arrived on another planet, a planet that wasn’t described in the Lonely Planet. This village meant a lot of stares, but most of all: honest smiles of people that hadn’t seen a tourist for a long time. The day ended quietly with a long conversation with a local shop owner, his staff and friends.Today was very different. Early rise, some dry crackers for breakfast and the rest of the day in the bus in order to get to a wildlife park that I had planned to see for days. Once I finally arrived, disappointment set in quickly: no walks in the park (literally), maximum 1 hour tour per jeep, and backtracking to place I just came from where the cheapest option would be the most expensive hotel of the entire trip. With an important day coming up and nobody I knew for longer than 5 minutes near me, I had failed miserably in scoring the -much desired- inspiration. As I sat down, contemplated and sadly watched massive trucks pass through the wild life ‘sanctuary’, a forest ranger started pushing the hotel of a ‘friend’ that had a ‘really good price’… With no options left, I decided to check it out, the pictures from the brochure showed an uninspiring modern building with probably ditto staff, ready to cater to package tours. My arrival in a village, halfway between the park and my last stop, marked the change in the day. The schools of the village had just closed when I got off the bus and within seconds I was surrounded by wildly enthusiastic kids who fired non-stop questions at me. My dark mood disappeared like monsoon in summer.
The staff in the hotel was the friendliest I’ve seen and the room (at a great price) was spacious and spotless. Strengthened by this turn of events, I went for a short walk. I was soon joined by two business students who explained that the hotel was located right next to the wildlife sanctuary. We passed through some rice fields and then saw a large ditch which – they explained – was created to protect the village from dangerous wild elephants. I don’t quite recall how it happened, but my plan to return back to the hotel gave way to a let’s-look-for-wild-elephants plan together with a new local guy who didn’t speak English. Fortunately I was armed with an inch wide wooden stick, so nothing bad could have happened to us anyway. To cut a long story short(er): Yes, we found a wild elephant walking at 20 meters from us.Yes, the students, who I later understood were send by the hotel to make my trip more pleasant, had never seen an elephant this close despite being born and raised here. Yes, we were invited by the local guy to have a cup of tea in his house where he showed us his in-house temple, a holy tree that is worshipped by his ancient tribe, and the marks of a wild elephant that tried to cross the ditch at literally 3 meters from his house. Hurried by a small rain shower we quickly returned to the hotel. All the way back, I smiled from ear to ear. This experience showed me that I’m not yet at peace and that some meditation would probably serve me well. Sorry India. p.s. Went on the jungle tour this morning and had great fun