Monday, October 31, 2011

Eight things one cannot travel to Bhutan without: But we did…

Number one: Heels
This trip is packaged as a hiking, biking, outing extravaganza, but little did we know!  The average woman in Bhutan will not wear her Kira without heels.  It is considered rather sloppy to not have heels with their Kira, not to mention when going out to disco-techs heels are a must (and yes, disco-techs are a very common pastime here).  So when we arrived in our hiking gear and our no-nonsense shoes, we were in a bit of a bind.
Number two: Travelers diarrhea/ Altitude sickness/ Motion sickness meds
It has happened to all of us, and it WILL ABSOLUTLEY happen to you! You drank the unfiltered water when you brushed your teeth and suddenly your stomach is rumbling is a very, very unsettling way.  You begin your adjustment to the new altitude by trekking several thousand more feet into the sky, and suddenly lunch is more threatening than when it first went down.  And my personal favorite (and this is for all of you carnival junkies, boat enthusiasts, motion extravaganzas), you get on what the Bhutanese have so lovingly called the “vomit commit” bound to some remote part of Bhutan and realize that it is, in fact, apply named.  It has happened to us, it will happen to you, and to think it wont will usually end in some form of explosive loss of food. Bring the meds.
Number three: Warm, Cold, AND RAIN clothing
You arrive in the middle of hot, humid monsoon season.  You hike in the middle of monsoon season.  This means that you literally strip down to a tank-top and shorts for two hours, add full rain wear and are up to your mid-calves in mud for the rest of the trek, and finally sleep in winter weather at night.   Most people hit one or two of these categories but no one ever gets all three right.  And to make matters worse, by mid October your are running around in every single article of clothing you own desperately trying to stay warm, wishing you HAD brought two or three pair of thermal undies.   Trust me when I say, the last few treks will end in sleeping bag sharing.  You may panic (as a few people did) and dump “excess” clothes in an attempt to hit the 20 kilo mark, but trust me, they wont charge you for three or four extra kilos, and Bhutan will hit every extreme in weather.  PS: extra socks don’t hurt either…
Number four: Toiletries
Like so many people, I believed that I could probably get by in Bhutan without bringing along the essentials.  However in short supply here are good razors, sun block, and mouthwash.  What can’t you find here? Tampons…..  (not good dinner talk I am sure, but get caught without them and you will not be happy) My advice is to just bring it.  A large tube of toothpaste, decent sized shampoo (conditioner is not required), and ANY toiletry you cannot live without…. because you just might have to live without.
Number five:  Extra memory cards
They are tiny and a pain in the butt to keep track of, but day 6 in a 10-day hike and your camera says “memory full” and you will be hurting.  This happened to most people during the Tsechu festival, and trust me when I say; it was not something any of us dealt well with.
Number six: Credit/Debit cards:
These bad boys are always dangerous to travel with, and it is best to really try to travel with a set amount of cash, however you can always withdraw more in times of need.  We were told one amount of money that was optimal to take, but quickly realized that did not account for extra travel (which we were then told to do), specialty diets (groceries can be expensive), and any shopping for clothes, shoes, or even gifts for friends and family.  Needless to say we came with one amount of money, and EVERYONE has spent more than that.
Number seven: Protein
Powder, bars, milks, any way you can get protein into Bhutan, get it.  All of our doctors advised it, none of us listened.  Now we have anemic this, lethargic that, and it is a general pain in the butt for those who pass out from iron deficiencies.  You can get peanut butter and meat in Bhutan, but expect to pay for it.  And that leads me to my last must have.
Number eight: Care packages
Now you will never bring everything, and the food here is very spicy, so make your parents send you something nice! A few general tips; don’t send electronics (they won’t make it), don’t send over five pounds (the price skyrockets into the hundreds), and always send in envelopes and never in boxes (an envelope takes twenty days, a box several months).  If you are like me, specialty coffee, skittles, and any other snack item is an extremely nice treat half way through the trip.  Most people receive entire packages filled with mac-n-cheese. 

Let me say, there are plenty more items we have all griped about not having, hair dryers, proper hiking bags, decent headphones, and so on.  However the lack of any of the things mentioned above has at some points cripple our enjoyment of the many experiences in Bhutan (especially number two).  Being unprepared comes with the terrain, but it never hurts to try and be as prepared as possible.  Hiking in torrential rain without a raincoat or watching a once in a lifetime festival without being able to record it can ruin anyone’s day, and sleeping in freezing cold weather without warm clothes will ruin anyone’s night.  Be prepared, be safe, and bring heels! 
Miranda Joy

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