CouchSurfing with Jungle Johnnie!
Backpacking in India is hard. There’s nothing easy about it. The travel is intense with hours and hours spent sweating in old cars bumping down flooded streets, or sitting in cramped trains with families of 15 sharing your seat with you. After weeks of living on ‘edge’, always on guard, fighting to keep my rupees in my pocket and not in the hands of greedy men– it was time for a break. We needed a rest from the filthy streets, crazed drivers, and overwhelming number of beggars. We needed a few days put up in the jungle, sipping gin & tonics, listening to the strings of a guitar.
CouchSurfing is not something my parents love us doing, and something a lot of people ask us, “Say What?! They let you sleep in their homes for free? But WHY?!” Our few couchsurfing experiences prove all the critics wrong. Jungle Johnnie was the ultimate couchsurfing host! Johnnie has found his own little slice of paradise and welcomes travelers from all over the world to come share it with him. He lives in a TIGER RESERVE! His gorgeous home is surrounded by an electric fence to try to keep out all the elephants, panthers, tigers, and other animals lurking in the tall grass around his yard. The drinks never stopped flowing, the food was delicious, and conversation endless. It felt like we came to visit an old friend after spending years apart and finally getting the chance to catch up! His humble abode was a breath of fresh air (literally, fresh air!) from the chaotic Indian streets and frustrating transportation. After weeks of living out of our bags filled with dirty clothes and eating not-so-healthy street food, we got the chance to relax and feel like “normal” people for a few days. Laundry, cooking, and bopping along to music on the stereo.
Riding around in his Land Rover we saw a few deer, boar, a big gaur, and 3 wild elephants! The mamma elephant was pawing at the ground setting herself up to charge at all the cars parked and pointing at her and her youngsters along the road. Needless to say we got away fast! It was the first time for both of us to see wild elephants, even if it was for a minute or two along the roadside. Our ultimate host even took us to an Elephant Camp for feeding and bath time. It was amazing to see these huge elephants laying in the river with their handler sitting on top of them washing behind their ears, their backs, sides, and tusks. The elephants were on their side underwater with the end of their trunk poking up from the murky waters for a breath of fresh air. With a few commands from their handler the elephant would stand up and slowly leave the river, stopping on the riverside so their handler could climb back onboard. It looked like something out of a movie, a few elephants in the river bathing, 2 women close by beating their clothes clean, and a couple of mischievous kids jumping off rocks into the muddy waters. A rare glimpse into the daily lives of the people living in the Mudumali Tiger Reserve.
After their baths, it was dinner time. Trunks and tusks in the air and this little hand in the middle of it all pushing a mound of mushed up dinner into the elephant’s mouth– it was awesome to see! We hung around after the feeding and bribed the ‘keeper’ with 25 cents to let us have a sneak peek at the new-born baby! His curious little trunk poking out at us, searching for treats in our pockets.
Couchsurfing gives backpackers a rare opportunity to see life the way the locals live it. Our trip into the jungle with Johnnie exceed ALL expectations, and we hope to eventually pay his kindness forward to other dirty & stressed travelers!