Now that the world has shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s a good time to go and reflect on some of the more interesting trips we’ve taken so we can look forward to future travel that will undoubtedly restart in some as-yet indeterminate amount of time. One of such trips was my visit to Uzbekistan – a trip that was actually planned a little bit last-minute because a work trip to India coincided with a friend flying through Tashkent, where an (intentional) misalignment of schedules caused him a four-day transit, which was just enough time to visit the country. Our plan was: day 1 was travel from our respective origins, day 2 was Bukhara, day 3 was Samarkand, day 4 was back to Tashkent and then an ungodly late night departure back to Delhi.
With a bit of a misleading title, I challenge the notion that the best winters are, indeed, in Canada. The longest, the darkest, the coldest, the snowiest… list goes on, but maybe “best” isn’t one of them. Lest the respectable reader should think that I only write long rambling articles about annoyingly sunny, pleasant, hard to reach places, I will happily prove that wrong by writing a long, rambling article about being effectively buried in the snow for a week. Soldier on!!
In the last post, I cheated slightly – I omitted one part about the tail end to my day – I wrote that I went straight to the hotel, but that wasn’t entirely honest. I actually came across a Sixt rental station as I was walking, and a new idea was born: since I still had a Sunday in Athens, and none of the meetings I wanted to have were doable on a Sunday, I needed a way to spend it. I decided that to further explore the myriad of mobile phone shops and semi-abandoned hotels was probably not the best way to spend a day in Athens, simply because I can do that more or less in any city, and I’ve seen Lycabetus and Acropolis by now. I’m obviously not suggesting that there’s nothing else to see in Athens, but at the same time… well, there’s other things to see outside Athens, as well.
The ride into town was … for lack of a better word, entertaining. The driver was patient for literally about five minutes before he stared talking. When he heard I was from Canada, he got all excited. As it turns out, after being kicked out of the US for moonlighting as a taxi driver for a month (and being caught for having drunk “one beer” as he put it), he went to moonlight in Canada as a taxi driver in ’83.
The Japanese automotive industry is obviously known as one of the powerhouses of the global car supply (and considering Toyota is #1 carmaker in the world, they have reason to be somewhat confident of their status). Part of the problem, though, is that most Japanese cars that are seen around the world are boring beige boxes that would put to sleep a starving cheetah propped up on crystal meth, and although they’re making very feeble attempts at rectifying that, the road is long and fraught with peril – because convincing, for instance, the American public that there’s something other than Honda Accord, Honda Civic, a Toyota Camry, a Prius and maybe a Corolla would be a gargantuan feat.
Going to Bora Bora is something that ranks among the top … like, three things in most bucket lists, somewhere alongside flying to Mars and having an out of body experience. I always wondered what the deal with the place was, and though it’s usually a pretty remote destination (not particularly difficult to get to, but just remote in the sense of the number of the number of methods of transport to take), it was always a future destination for me. However, since we happened to find ourselves in Tokyo that fall, it was a direct flight from Narita to Pape’ete, and a short hop with the local flag carrier – so it became a much more accessible destination. So obviously (?), off we went.
One of the things I am a strong believer in is that opinions should be expressed with at least some factual backing to them. A number of years ago, I went to the Cook Islands, which I thought was one of the most beautiful places I've ever been to – particularly the lagoons of Aitutaki and Rarotonga. At the time, I remember hearing opinions that it was "like Tahiti but with less tourists and at a tenth of the price". I would then go around passing this opinion on to people, and the question I immediately received back most of the time was, "I see, but have you been to Tahiti?" and all I could do was say no – it was based on factual Internet research. We all know everything on the Internet is always true, but at some point, this dialogue got old; so I decided to fix it… and went to Tahiti.
It’s funny, because the time it took me to pick up the story of the third, and final, day in Bhutan was almost as much as it took me to rest from the crazy climb to the Tiger’s Nest. But one perseveres, and one eventually succeeds, or something of the sort… so here comes the story of the final day of the trip.
So a little bit of background is in order, I suppose. Tiger's Nest is a Buddhist monastery, considered to be the holiest Buddhist site in all of Bhutan. It's situated at 10,000 feet (about 3,400 meters) above sea level, and the parking lot is about 2,000 meters, so that's more or less a 1.4km elevation change. The trek length is 4.5 kms, most of it pretty much up, up, up. None of the things I've read about Tiger's Nest mention the trek – everyone talks about how beautiful it is, how spectacular it is, and all that. Nobody actually talks about getting there. So like, I knew there was a trek to do. I also knew you could ride horses halfway up, which I consider cheating. What I didn't know is just how hard this trek is. The previous night during our drunken debauchery with the tour company's owner, he mentioned that there was a shortcut; that it was "harder", but made the trek "shorter". Since I am not one to ever shy away from a challenge, I demanded we take the shortcut. My guide looked very skeptical, but acquiesced… and so off we went.
About two weeks back I went to a place that I’ve always wanted to go to (actually, that might not be a very descriptive statement, as there are many places I’ve wanted to go that I’ve ended up going to, and yet more that I’ve not even been to yet, so in and of itself, this sentence means nothing). The impetus for this trip, though, was a conversation with a good friend in which he pointed out that if I’m going to Delhi, there are a number of these places within easy reach – somehow, Bhutan has always been a “far-away” destination for me, but indeed, it’s barely two hours away from Delhi, and so going there isn’t exactly difficult once you’re all the way over there. There were only two complications; getting there was by far the biggest one.