An online skydiving logbook

May 26, 2009


It has now been raining for almost 40 hours here. And not just a slight drizzle, no: it has been pouring all the time. Roads are blocked because of landslides. Bridges are destroyed. This morning, the whole city had no electricity for about 4 hours. Television is showing (live!) how houses are washed away by flooding rivers.

The government has issued a warning that all travel in the country is forbidden for the moment and that people living near to rivers should evacuate and look for a safer place. They also urged people not to rush to rivers and bridges to watch the spectacle. Now, this idea immediately appealed to me, and I went down to the bridge over the Wang Chu (river) downtown. Great spectacle! The river was big and wild, carrying trees and lots of debris. I even saw a piece of a bridge and an electricity pole passing by.

There were also a few soldiers there, trying to get the people to move on, not to linger on the bridge. Without too much success.

Apart from all of this, Tuesday is Bhutan's national Dry Day. And this means what you might fear it means: all bars are closed on Tuesday. What a horrible idea!!! Luckily Bhutan's black economy is in a very good health :-)

I had a shave and a haircut today, I bought my souvenirs, in short: I'm done here. I hope this rain stops some time soon, so that we can get to the airport (some 50 km from here). And if we manage to get there, I hope they reopen it by then. Well, Inch Allah - oops sorry, wrong religion. Should be something like "If Buddha will allow it".

May 25, 2009

After the trek

Well, I don't know what to say. I don't know how to describe this. I'll just fire away some bulletpoints/highlights.

- In 15 days, we walked about 200 km, climbed (and descended again) about 7000 meters.
- camping at Jomolhari basecamp, at the foot of a 2000 meter near-vertical snow wall.
- on a clear night, the snowcapped mountains radiating in the moonlight, while at the same time the fog in the valley beneath us, bounces that same moonlight back up: one of the most strange and beautiful, almost magic, sights I ever saw.
- crossing a 5000 meter pass, and seeing 7000 meter mountains where ever you look.
- white eagles floating in the air above your head.
- the people living in this remote area, where the nearest road is at least 3 days marching away. This is what the middle ages must have been like.
- meeting children who never saw television.
- negotiating with the governor of the region (in his kitchen!) whether we are allowed to camp in this village.
- our coock and our guide fighting (literally, I am talking physical violence here).
- HIV prevention slogans painted on the rocks in the middle of nowhere. I have no idea where these villagers are supposed to get the condoms they are advised to use.
- penises everywhere: wooden penises hanging on the roofs, painted penises on the walls, our driver's key-ring, ...
- drinking butter-tea with the locals (an acquired taste, as they say).
- ...

But the main thing is probably this country as a whole: this unique mix of century-old traditions with modern technology. This oh-so-friendly people, proud of their country, aware of its uniqueness, eager to show you, to "let you in". It is truely unlike anything I have ever seen, anywhere I have ever been.

I am in Thimpu now, the capital of this unique country. It took us 6 hours to drive the 120 km from the trek's endpoint. Including a very surreal traffic jam on a mountain pass, because of a truck-accident that completely blocked the road for a few hours. I just escaped from our anonymous posh hotel to have dinner in a local restaurant (the hotel restaurant didn't look at all appealing).

I already spotted a few promising bars while I was looking for this cybercafe :-)

May 8, 2009

A day in Bhutan

Today, as a warming-up for our coming trek, we hiked to a monastery high up in the mountains. A little over 3000 meter. Beautiful walk. On the halfway point was a watermill, that powered an immense prayer wheel. It was very skilfully built, they obviously know about engineering here, only they use it for purposes we wouldn't even think of. If you want a full description of the monastery, read Michael Palin,s 'Himalaya', the chapter about his visit to the Buthan - Tiger's Nest. He,s better then I am at telling things like this.

After this , my travel companion went to the hotel for a siesta, while I went to the Buthan National Museum. This museum had a scale model of the hotel where I'm staying, and a whole floor dedicated to stamps: did you know that the Bhutanese gouvernement issued a series of stamps on Donald Duck in 1982 :-)? Apart from the countless Buddhas, the main showpiece of the museum is an exact replica of the Buthanese democratic constitution that they accepted in 2008. Maybe we take too much for granted in our Western lives.

The museum closed at 5 PM, and we (guide & me) were running a bit late. By the end of our visit, the whole crew was walking behind me, and each time I left a room, they closed it up immediately behind my back. We ended up giving two of the wards a ride home back into the town.

After that, my guide & I went for a beer in a local bar again, and it got to us. When might say we ended this day a little drunk.

Next 15 days are on trek, through no-internet, no-mobile-phone, no-electricity (!)country. So it will be a while before you here from me again.

Zen (and beer of course).

May 7, 2009


I am on a non-skydiving holiday for the rest of this month, so I'll temporarily abuse this blog to write about my travels and trekking in the Himalaya, in the Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan.

Tuesday morning, there was an early flight Brussels-Amsterdam, and then on to Delhi. I had a 3-seat row all to myself, so the long flight wasn't too awesome. Late night arrival, taxi, hotel, sleep, early start, and on to Kathmandu.

There, I stayed in Dwarika's Hotel. Apart from being a very nice and chique hotel, this is also a rather unique place. It is a modern hotel, it has everything a modern 5-star hotel must have, but it is built completely by traditional craftsmen, in the traditional Nepali style, using 'real' materials. And unlike other places and buildings that mix traditional style and nowadays comfort, this one doesn't feel fake. It's authentic, and a very beautiful place and nice hotel.

I only stayed in Kathmandu for one day, so all I have is a first impression: dirty, noisy, busy. Did I say dirty already? But it nevertheless has charm. All the drivers are using their horns all the time (did I say noisy?), but they don't get nervous or angry. They just drive like very quiet and very relaxed complete madmen. They even continue to honk at each other while they are all standing still before a traffic light. And besides, having a few beers and dining at sunset on a roof terras... I could get used to this, you know.

Next day, that's today, an early start again. Wake-up call at 5, breakfast brought up by 5.30, off to the airport by 6. Strange thing was, my wake-up call came early, next my breakfast came early, and my airport transfer also came early. Only then did the penny drop: I was still a timezone behind in my travels :-)

On the flight to Buthan, Paro airport, we had great views of the Himalaya. First time ever I saw Everest and all those other famous giants. And then there is the approach to Paro airport. Spectacular. Very spectacular! Slaloming through the steep valleys. It's like those crazy wingsuiting RedBull guys, but with an Airbus! At Paro airport, the traffic control tower is built in a traditional pagode (!).

At the airport, I met my trekking companion (an Englishman) and our trekking guide (a Bhutanese). My companion started off by telling a story about everything that went wrong on his trip from London to Bhutan, and by mentioning a few complaints he would certainly make in the after-tour evaluation form. Well, he had a harsh trip, and he was very tired. Maybe he is a good natured optimist after all :-).

I spent the rest of the day hanging around in our hotel, getting myself a SIM card that works over here, and visiting a very big and beautiful dzong (=fort). Not so much visiting, but more wandering around in it, and being impressed by it. Tomorrow I'll take an official tour of that same dzong. I wonder if my own story and the guide's story will match?

No skydiving, but I'm still going to end the day with a beer...