Money often presents one of the biggest challenges in preparing for an international trip. Will your credit card work overseas? Can you use your ATM card? Should you carry lots of cash? It's always best to be prepared, so that you don't find yourself in a foreign country without the financial resources you need. You can count on Myths and Mountains to make sure you have all the information you need before you go.
In Bhutan and other Asian countries, things operate very differently than in North America. Just because the ATM in your bank at home works, does not mean that the ATM in Bhutan will accept your card. In fact, it won't. Just because you have a platinum American Express Card does not mean that the antique store in Thimphu will allow you to buy that beautiful basket. In fact, it won't. Bhutan will sometimes accept Visa, but no other credit cards, and travelers cannot use local ATMs. Myanmar does not accept any credit cards and has no ATMs at all. In other countries such as Nepal sometimes the ATM works - but invariably, when you need it most, it doesn't!
For countries such as these, the best thing to do is to bring dollars in cash and change them into the local currency. If you are nervous about carrying a lot of money, break it into two packets and put them in separate parts of your travel gear. Then hope you remember where you put everything!
Two new airports will radically alter travel in Bhutan in the next year, making it faster, easier, and more efficient to explore this remote mountain kingdom.
Presently, the only way to cross Bhutan from west to east is by driving a narrow, winding road dotted with hairpin turns and trucks and cars frantically trying to pass each other on blind mountain curves. Driving from one end of the country to the other on a tour takes about 13 days, so most travelers only go as far as Bumthang, in the middle of Bhutan, and then return west to Paro and fly out – a 10-day journey.
In about a year, though, all will be different. New airports are being constructed in both Bumthang and Trashigang in eastern Bhutan, shortening the cross-country journey. No longer will tourists drive to Bumthang and then return by the same route. Instead, they can drive there from Paro in 5 to 6 days, and then make the return trip by air.
Even more importantly, the new Yonphula Airstrip between Trashigang and Samdrup Jongkhar will open up the less-visited eastern towns of Mongar and Trashigang to tourists and make travel in Merak and Sakten, two communities still undiluted by Bhutan’s rapid economic growth, more accessible. Here in the east one can still get a sense of the traditional lives of Bhutan’s nomads. Tourists will be able to fly directly from Paro to Yonphula, tour the east and return to Paro, or even drive into Bhutan from Guwahati in India’s Assam state, visit these eastern areas, and then fly west and visit Thimphu before exiting Bhutan from Paro.
These infrastructure improvements are all part of Bhutan’s development plan, which depends heavily on increasing the number of tourists to this wonderful Shangri-La.
TsheringTenzin is the new field coordinator for READ Bhutan. He wrote an incrediblycharming piece about his first visit to Ura, the site of the first READ libraryin Bhutan.Do take a minute and read it - just wonderful.
The nippy winter evanesces tardily delivering another spring; a season of great white hopes, aspiration and Love. Spring welcomes another year and it unfurls new set of dreams and hopes in every soul; it was a perfect hour to drive through the core of the peaceful dragon country in the Himalayas.
It was my first trip to Ura, Bumthang. It rained down the night out before my trip and I was apprehensive about the snowfall on the high snowcapped triplet peaks of Dochula, Pelala and Yotongla en route to Bumthang. It was a beautiful drive all through to Bumthang amidst the barren boisterous mountains, snowcapped peaks, meandering crystal rivers and smoking chimneys from an old house on a distant hill, an overloaded truck ferrying consumable and an old man clinging to his dear life to the crisscrossed ropes at the back of the truck. The ice clad road didn't facilitate speedy drive. Just as well, I wanted to savor the feast, feast for my soul I feel the cold biting breeze on my face as I hum to 'Island in the stream' by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton whilst I tap my fingers on the wheel.
We were all sitting in the hot, stuffy dining room of our hotel in Nepal Gunjafter a long day's library inauguration. Next to me was Smita, a small,slender waif of a girl, who looked about 16 at most. To imagine her inher late 20s and a top reporter for one of Kathmandu's best newspapers wasimpossible! I asked her how she had achieved so much, and she told me astory.
Smitagrew up in Rukum, a province in far west Nepal that was very poor and backward evenfor one of the world's least developed countries. For many years, Rukumhad been controlled by the Maoists, and operated as an autonomous state withinthe country. The literacy rate was one of the lowest in all Nepal, manypeople had no electricity and most lived below the poverty level. Ofthose children who did attend school, almost all were boys.
Smita'sparents were illiterate farmers, but they did believe in education, sending hertwo older brothers to school. Her uncle was a school teacher, himself anda very important man in Smita's life. When she was young, he would tellher stories and encourage her to dream. She loved him very much.
Oneday the uncle traveled east across the country to Kathmandu. While there,during a random conversation, he learned that years back men had landed on themoon - something of which he was heretofore unaware.
Returningto Rukum, one of the stories he told Smita was about the moonlanding. She was amazed when she heard of such an inconceivable event -men so far up in the sky on the moon! Astonishing yet an inspiration forher! Even though she had never been to school, Smita dreamt of being adoctor one day when she grew up. If men could land on the moon - totallyunimaginable earlier - atleast she could go to school and study.
Sinceher brothers were students and her uncle supported Smita's wish to learn, herparents let her go to school - the first girl in her village to ever attendclass. Not only did she graduate, but she managed to get a scholarship tothe university in Kathmandu. Along the way, she changed her mind aboutmedicine and became a newspaper reporter
WhenI asked her what gave her the strength to do what no other woman in her villagehad done, she smiled and referred to her uncle.
"Thatstory meant the world to me. I knew at that moment that my dreams could become real. I toocould shoot for the stars," she said solemnly.
"IfI did not reach the stars, I could always land on the moon!"
Bruce and Barbara Exstrum recently returned from a custom Myths and Mountains journey to Peru! Below is an intriguing account of their experience and a few photos, snapped along the way....
We wanted to celebrate ourmilestone birthdays with a special trip.Our planning started with Machu Picchu and escalated from there.How much could we fit into 14 days butspend enough time to get to know each place?Allie took our wish list and turned it into a well-crafted customitinerary:deep rain forest for aweek, then Cuzco-Machu Picchu-Sacred Valley, followed by a scenic bus ride toPuno with a home stay on Lake Titicaca, and just enough time for a day's tourof Lima before heading home.We emergedat the other end exhausted (by design) but very happy and with many wonderfulmemories.We made all of ourconnections, the accommodations were as advertised, and our guides were veryprofessional, knowledgeable, and fun to be with.
We highly recommend the TambopataResearch Center for getting the full rain forest experience, complete with arare spider monkey sighting (plus watching the expert river pilots in both lowwater and very high water), Machu Picchu of course (no pictures prepare you forhow breathtaking that first view is), the bus from Cuzco to Puno (we weredubious about the wisdom of taking a 9-hour bus ride, but it's a reallycomfortable bus with interesting stops and as it turned out, we appreciated thechance to sit for a while), and the home stay on Taquile Island in LakeTiticaca, whichcame with beautifulpeople, beautiful views, and some of the best food of the trip.
However, we may not yet be able toclaim membership in the Adventure Travel community because 1) Everything wentas planned.2) The closest we cameto a "crisis" was having the soles of Barb's hiking boots come apart (bothshoes!) halfway through our visit to Machu Picchu. In an uncharacteristic fitof packing light, Barb had brought only these shoes on this part of the trip,but was saved by a kind vendor at the market in Aguas Calientes who not onlyhad superglue for sale, but helped us apply it to make sure it would work(temporarily, but long enough to get us through the day). 3) We spent our lastseveral hours before our late flight from Lima observing the local culture atthe high-end cliffside Larcomar shopping center (but there is a small satelliteof the Gold Museum there).Did wemention we were exhausted and not thinking clearly?
Thanks again to Allie, Katie, andeveryone at M&M and their excellent local providers for giving us such amemorable experience and several future months of sorting and editing thephotos.