Today’s excuse: My camera broke and I needed to wait until a certain procrastinator uploaded her pictures so that I could post them to this blog.
While the rest of the United States indulged in boatloads of candy, over-sized jack-o-lanterns, and skimpy schoolgirl or sexy cat outfits, four of us Wheaton students had the pleasure of experiencing one of the most authentic Halloween experiences in recent history.
For some of us, the trek to Haa was one of the most anticipated events of the semester. It promised to be our most challenging hike with the most spectacular views of the Himalayas. With classes nearing their end and the final paper looming, this trip marked both the beginning of the end and the end of potential procrastination—immense amounts work would have to be done diligently upon our return. For the time being, however, it was the furthest thing from our minds.
Early Friday morning, we groggily made our way down the hill to our bus and said farewell to the other four Wheaton students. We were blessed with good wishes, loaded up with Luna bars, and presented with Halloween “goodie bags” by the wonderful and gorgeous Lina Smith (the goodies quite literally saved our lives). Furthermore, Lina and Elana had “decked out” the bus Halloween style, complete with stickers of witches and pumpkins and a sign to put on the dashboard, which read:
Happy Halloween: Don’t Die in Haa.
After our emotional goodbyes, the four of us piled in the van along with our guide and our cooks and headed off to Haa. Although the drive was scheduled to take three or four hours, a combination of lunch, photo opportunities, and “bush visits” slowed us down a bit.
We took the following photo on the road to Haa, with the primary intention of leaving our friends and family something to remember us by….just in case
As we drove, the temperature dropped
and I mean DROPPED
You see, one of the most fascinating features of Bhutan is the dramatic shift in climate from one area to the next. If you were to ask what percentage of Bhutan is mountainous, the answer would be, “all of it.” Thus, a spatial difference of two or three miles could easily yield a temperature difference of ten degrees Fahrenheit. Elevation, wind speed and direction and exposure to sunlight are highly variable over the most insignificant distances.
This is why we wear layers:
Take off gloves
Take off hat
Take off sweatshirt
Put on girlfriend’s long underwear (convenient that we wear the same size)
Put on gloves
Put on hat
Put on sweatshirt, jacket and additional windbreaker
This process can occur over a period of ten to fifteen minutes.
After the drive, we arrived at the village where our tour guide had grown up. We spent the night drinking tea, pigging out on Bhutanese fare and learning some traditional dances—I’d be happy to teach you one or two.
As the dance session came to a close, we piled into our sleeping bags and spent a frigid night listening to a pack of dogs bark for hours…amazing vocal endurance from these canines.
At sunrise….actually, BEFORE the sunrise, Sarah climbed out of her sleeping bag and walked into the kitchen to learn the art of butter churning from the owner of the house. Although I was sound asleep at this time, Sarah described the process as unbelievably difficult. Next stop, Amish country to give it a shot…
The sun rose, the rooster crowed, the cow mooed, and Raffi decided that it was too damn early to be up. Rising out of bed with a yawn, he tripped over several inanimate objects, including a mattress, a sleeping back and his own feet, and trudged into the kitchen.
After a light breakfast of porridge and toast, the four of us transferred our bags into the truck and were about to head off to the campsite when…
“With seven people and camping supplies, there isn’t enough room for all of us in the truck…”
“Okay well hop in the trunk.”
One of the many advantages of being so darn skinny…
The ride to the campsite, which lasted about an hour, presented remarkable views and sheer drops that seemed to extend to the center of the earth. Riding in the trunk made the ride that much more intimidating.
We arrived at our campsite around noon and almost immediately set off on our first hike along a nearby ridge. The air was crisp and the sky grew cloudy as we made our way to two peaks, each one seemingly higher than the other.
As previously mentioned, the temperature around these parts is quite erratic—we found ourselves constantly stopping to switch layers. This initial hike was quite short (about four or five hours), however, we maintained an altitude of over 10,000 feet! We were all thoroughly exhausted when we returned to camp, and spent the rest of the day read and resting.
Although I forgot my book back at school, I was lucky enough to meet a traveler who handed his book off to me to lighten his load.
The title of this riveting novel: Aliens—Earth Hive.
Devon and I awoke on October 31st giddy and pumped up on the prospect of tricks and treats. The two girls we were with hail from the Netherlands and Japan, where Halloween is little more than a limited time Pumpkin Spice Latte at Starbucks. Some people will just never understand…
As we began our second hike to the larger peak, our guide, Tsewang, told us stories of demons that haunt the Haa area as well as the famous Yeti, which is said to dwell in the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas. We hiked through lunch and eventually made it to the peak, where we sat down to enjoy the view:
After lunch, we took a short rest before returning to camp. In some inexplicable turn of events, Yuri and Sarah managed to fall asleep atop the frigid peak
After our hike back to road, I split off from the rest of the group to make a quick phone call (service goes from zero to five bars within a matter of feet). On my walk back, I found myself alone. This was one of the few times during this trip that I have been able to experience the natural beauty of Bhutan on such an individual level. Walking along the dirt road, I closed my eyes (making sure not to plunge off the side of the cliff) and listened to everything around me. Birds harmonized with the wind, which whipped around me. The crunch of rocks and soil under my feet grew in volume and frequency with every step.
As quickly as these noises had come to me, they stopped. I opened my eyes and I was walking in a soundless vacuum. Anything and everything around me was purely visual and it was the first time in my life that I truly came to understand the sound of silence.
That night, we sat in a large communal tent and listened to Tsewang tell us what I now regard as a quintessential Halloween tale. This Bhutanese folktale lasted roughly 15-20 minutes and followed the happenings of a young Bhutanese man who lost track of his member. The phallus roamed the countryside, terrorizing men and women and was eventually placed on an old woman’s mantle for good luck. Talk about misplacing your mojo…
We awoke the next morning to a sight, which none of us had experienced during this time of the year.
The hills, mountains and campsite were sprinkled with a gentle layer of white powder, save one small spot in front of our tent where a wild dog had made camp for the night.
The term “freezing my a$$ off” doesn’t even begin to describe this situation. My layers consisted of the following:
-One wool hat
-Two pairs of gloves
-Long underwear tops and bottoms
-One thermal shirt
-One cashmere sweater
-One thermal jacket
-One thick winter jacket
-One pair of thick jeans
-Two pairs of smart-wool hiking socks
-One pair of hiking boots
Somehow, I was still freezing—I should have hopped around in my sleeping bag for the rest of the day.
We rushed through a breakfast of porridge and french toast and loaded up the truck to move to a warmer climate. My facial expression appropriately describes the temperature—
We returned to the house where we had spent our first night in order to eat a quick lunch and try our hand at archery. We put forth a valiant effort, however, our tour guide put us to shame with his compound bow and general awesomeness:
Driving back to Thimphu, we slowly began to thaw as the temperature rose slowly. As the city came into view, my mind reverted back to the subject that I had, for the past three days, been able to keep at bay: work.
For the next week, I buckled down and finished my assignments: a short piece on the environmental state of the country and my final research paper on the changing nature of traditional and modern alcohol use in Bhutan.
When the bulk of the work was behind me, I began to focus on my father’s visit. He arrived on Nov. 10 and, after a short recovery from a 36-hour trip, climbed up to the most beautiful site in Bhutan: the Tiger’s Nest (the eighth wonder of the world). Being the thoughtful father that he is, he remembered to bring the new camera that I had recently purchased. This afforded me the opportunity to take some fantastic shots of the landmark:
At this point in time, my work at Kuzoo FM has come to a close and my school term is wrapping up as well. I have roughly 12 days left here in Bhutan and the Land of the Thunder Dragon is making its final attempt to keep me here indefinitely. Sometimes, I wonder what it would be like if I stayed….
But then I remember how much I miss Cherry Garcia.
Expect one more log before I depart and an additional reflection upon my return stateside. My time at home will be dominated by GRE practice for the exam, which I will be taking in January. Additionally, I will began my graduate school applications and pack for Paris, Santa Barbara, and my cross-country road trip.
Your friendly, skinny, neighborhood jet-setter,