Mythical Bhutan

Post of the Day: Adding a bit of light to the darkness as we get through the pandemic together.
This series features travel photos from my archives, shared with you as we shelter in place.

June 17th, 2020

Today we depart Punakha for Phobjikha Valley. Before we leave, here’s a quick look at Meri Puensum Resort. Perched on the hillside with a bright red prayer wheel out front, it’s hard to beat such a charming retreat for less than $40 USD per night.

If you’ve looked into visiting Bhutan, you may already know its reputation as one of the world’s most expensive places to visit. Bhutan is not cheap, but I think its reputation is inaccurate and here’s why. Booking my seven-day trip directly through Bridge to Bhutan cost approximately $1,800 USD ~ an average of $257 per day. The trip cost included all meals, hotels, a guide and a driver for the whole trip. And there were only two people in my tour group. There are certainly more than a few places in the world where meals, hotels, a guide and a driver would cost more than $257 per day.

Rhododendrons

Rhododendrons

It’s important to note too that unless you are from India (a neighboring country), Bhutan mandates that you book your visit through a local company so that your dollars are shared with its citizens working in tourism. Your trip cost also includes a 35% Welfare Levy that pays for education and health care in Bhutan (what a concept; the US could sure learn a lot from this). This approach ensures that you connect with and learn from citizens of Bhutan. You cannot just bring a guide book and explore on your own. For some, that’s probably where Bhutan loses its appeal but as many of you have said in your comments, it’s the people we connect with while traveling who often enrich our experiences beyond measure.

Further, I would note that booking directly with a Bhutanese company eliminates the “middle man,” as we say in the US. There are infinite “middle man” companies not based in Bhutan that are very willing to help you get there – for a fee. This is where the rubber hits the road for Bhutan being one of the most expensive places to visit. Doing a quick check for trips to Bhutan with a few well known mid-range to luxury travel companies (I won’t name names) produces the following results (per person):

7 days: $2,600 USD ($371 per day)
8 days: $7,099 USD ($887 per day)
10 days: 3,999 USD ($399 per day)
10 days: 4,300 USD ($430 per day)
11 days: $8,495 USD ($772 per day)

These “middle man” companies simply but significantly mark up the cost of the trips that are ultimately provided by tour companies in Bhutan (as required by the government, as noted above). For these inflated prices, your accommodations might be better but no amount of extra money makes the dirt road easier to drive or the view of Tiger’s Nest more beautiful. These companies are literally banking on the fact that tourists are just more likely to book with a company they know and trust in their own country (for far more money) than do some research and book directly with a cheaper company they’ve never heard of in Bhutan ~ especially for the trip of a lifetime, as Bhutan seems to be for many people.

So … keep this in mind if you plan a trip. It’s also important to think about airfare. I visited Bhutan while living in Singapore which made the airfare much cheaper than if I’d been traveling from the US. If possible, try to add Bhutan to other destinations you want to visit, or trips you have planned, in the region.

I’ll leave you with a view of the Phobjhika Valley.

More tomorrow,
Kelly

Phobjikha Valley, Bhutan

Phobjikha Valley, Bhutan

 

Daily Dose of Beauty Local Color Miscellaneous

Seville: Into the Ring

Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla

Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla

April 11th, 2020

This post is part of a series called Daily Dose of Beauty featuring travel photos and stories from my archives, shared with you as we shelter in place during the pandemic. For today’s Daily Dose, we’re in Seville, Spain at its historic bullfighting ring.

On a morning walk through Seville we unknowingly stroll by one of the city’s most historic buildings. Aside from its grandeur and striking color combination, there’s a palpable aura that catches our attention. Something about this place just feels big and ominous. We follow the sidewalk as it curves around the building and brings us to the front entrance and ticket office. Only then do we realize we’re at Seville’s storied bullfighting ring, the Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla.

I’m not a fan of bullfighting but we’re in Spain and this country has a longstanding history with the controversial sport. Even calling it a sport is controversial since it’s almost predetermined that each bull entering the ring will die eventually, except for on those rare and celebrated occasions when the matador in the ring cannot get the job done and the surviving bull goes on to live out his days in a verdant pasture in rural Spain.

There’s a quote about traveling that sums up our dilemma today:

Travelling, one accepts everything; indignation stays at home. One looks, one listens, one is roused to enthusiasm by the most dreadful things because they are new. Good travellers are heartless.
~
Elias Canetti

Today, we’re maybe only partially heartless as we decide to take the tour of the bullfighting ring but refrain from attending any bullfights. I’m certainly intrigued by the history and beauty of this place but death in the afternoon (as Hemingway aptly titled his famous book about bullfighting), is not something we feel compelled to see.

With tickets in hand, we enter the museum in the arched spaces below the ring. We’re instantly captivated by the vintage posters from decades ago filled with color and handmade fonts.

Bullfighting Museum Interior

Bullfighting Museum Interior

The opulence of bullfighting draws us in as we wander through the museum. Renowned matadors are celebrated with richly painted portraits and famous bulls are memorialized with wall mounts and plaques. An embellished traje de luces or “suit of lights” is displayed in a glass box on the wall. There’s a reverence to the tradition of bullfighting that feels heavy and serious.

The tour guide tells us there are about 50-60 matadors today and bullfighting is most popular in Spain, Mexico and Argentina. The best matadors travel around the world and between hemispheres as the bullfighting season changes.

Outside the ring, a separate entrance for matadors is marked with small metal visages of bullfighters. A door within a door opens and an attendant awaits their arrival on days when bullfights take place.

A tunnel in the interior leads to the small door of the matador’s chapel, with a tiny sign above it. Matadors say their prayers here before meeting their next opponent. A few chairs line each wall, providing room for matadors and anyone related who wants to spend some time here before or during a fight.

We continue on to a short staircase where spectators climb up to the seating surrounding the ring.

Stairs to the bullring

Stairs to the bullring

Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla

Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla

Stepping up for our first look at the bullfighting ring, I’m struck by its color and size. Spain’s vibrant red and yellow paint the ring, from the ground to the archways. Tiered brick seating holds up to 12,000 people. I imagine the noise and the spectacle of a top-tier bullfight, two creatures against each other in the vast emptiness of this ring.

Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla

Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla

There’s no denying this is a remarkable landmark of Seville, started in 1749 and yet not completed until the late 1800s. So much has happened in the decades and centuries during its existence – life, death, wars and even pandemics.

Normally, the annual Seville Fair would be starting this month and the ring would be packed with spectators watching the bullfights. This year a different kind of fight has preempted the tradition. Seville’s ring remains empty and its bulls will live a while longer as the country’s attention is focused elsewhere, on a far more challenging opponent.

Until tomorrow,
Kelly

Culture Miscellaneous

Daily Dose of Beauty: A Bornean Feast

Harvesting bamboo

Harvesting bamboo

Daily Dose of Beauty: Adding a bit of light to the darkness as we get through the pandemic together.
This series features travel photos and stories from my archives, shared with you as we shelter in place.

April 4th, 2020

Following yesterday’s arrival, we’re enjoying an afternoon lunch with Saloma and her family in Sarawak, Borneo. We hike thirty minutes away from her house to a small hut in the middle of the jungle.

Harvesting bamboo

Harvesting bamboo

We follow Saloma’s father deeper into the jungle where he looks for bamboo with the expert eye of someone who has been doing this his whole life. After a few taps and shakes on various bamboo shoots, he chooses two and gets to work cutting them down with his machete.

Collecting lunch

Collecting lunch

I follow Saloma along the trail as she collects various leaves, roots and flowers in the basket hanging from her shoulder. She, too, has a lifetime of experience living off the land, passed down from her grandmother (and generations beyond) who is 90 years old and hiking around with us as we forage. We keep walking while gathering small red chili peppers, ginger, lemongrass and a few small seed pods filled with flavor.

Saloma knows what’s edible, what’s useful for other purposes and what requires special handling. After cutting down a few young stalks of bamboo, she buries the excess alongside the trail while giving thanks for the abundant, regenerating resource.

I ask Saloma how her family feels about her turning their home into a guest house. She says they didn’t understand at first … why would anyone want to stay at their house? But they understand now that their way of life and experience living from the land is unique to many and something people can learn from.

Back at the hut, Saloma’s father whittles the most charming set of drinking cups from the bamboo he harvested. His wife has the kettle on in preparation for afternoon tea.

Saloma’s teenage brothers, typically rambunctious and adolescent, are just down the path at the barbecue pit tending to the pork. Playing with fire? Maybe, but they seem to know what they’re doing.

While we’ve been up the trail, Saloma’s mom has been making bamboo rice in the fire. She fills the bamboo piece with rice and water, then seals the opening and places the other end in the flame. The rice absorbs the hot water and expands into the enclosed bamboo column.  She splits open the bamboo revealing the most perfect, fluffy rice you could ever imagine. Nature and human creativity can be such a magical combination.

The pork arrives from the grill, Saloma has assembled the salads and everything is prepared and presented in various vessels made from palm and banana leaves. We toast to this incredible feast prepared in the jungle of Borneo, and give thanks to Saloma’s family for everything we’ve experienced and learned from them.

Tomorrow is Sunday. We’ll head to the coast for some time at the beach before riding the magic carpet to our next destination.

Until then,
Kelly

Daily Dose of Beauty Miscellaneous
Maldives

Daily Dose of Beauty, March 21st

Drummers of Maldives

Drummers of Maldives

Daily Dose of Beauty: Adding a bit of light to the darkness as we get through the pandemic together.

March 21st, 2020

Continuing our weekend in Maldives, the drummers of Olhuveli convey the energy, beauty and movement of their rhythm. Their synergy is something we’re all missing now as we stay apart from each other but we’ll make music together again someday. It’s inspiring to see people in Italy continuing to share music from their balconies amid the pandemic.

When I departed Maldives, I stopped at a store in the Malé airport to look for a sarong like the ones the drummers were wearing. The store was packed with swimsuits and board shorts, but the man at the counter pointed me to a tiny bin on the floor where, at the very bottom, I found what I was looking for. As I paid him for the sarong, he wrote something on a little piece of paper and handed it to me with a huge smile on his face while saying, “Feyli.” He was so happy that out of everything in his store, I had chosen to take home with me the single item of clothing most emblematic of his country. I still have that piece of paper and I still have the feyli.

What I love about the photo below is that the lovely wide stripes of the feylis have national identity. A simple motif communicates geographic location with no need for words. If you’ve been to or studied Maldives, you could see this photo and know where it was captured based on those stripes alone. This is what many of us love most about travel – the education that comes with every journey and interaction, big and small.

Daily Dose of Beauty, March 21st

The wide stripes of Maldives are applied in other beautiful ways too, in all kinds of surprising color combinations.

Maldivian wooden containers

Maldivian wooden containers

Maldivian lacquerware radiates with color, and these craftsmen on the island showed us how they create it with a hand-powered lathe. The feyli worn by the gentleman on the right has the traditional stripe motif with a burgundy base.

Maldivian Craftsmen

Maldivian Craftsmen

Tomorrow, we’ll wrap up Maldives and fly on to another location.

Until then,
Kelly

Daily Dose of Beauty Miscellaneous
Daily Dose of Beauty, March 20th

Daily Dose of Beauty, March 20th

Daily Dose of Beauty, March 20th

March 20th, 2020

Let’s go to Maldives for the weekend, shall we? You’re coming in for a landing while enjoying the view of the turquoise drops in the ocean below you. That beauty like this exists in the world is hard to believe, especially after a dreadful week like this one. (And we just had a 5.0 earthquake in Lake Tahoe to top it all off!)

Breathe deep for a moment and imagine you’re there. You’ve touched down in an ethereal paradise in the middle of the Arabian Sea. I’ll leave you on the dock for now so you can meditate on the color blue.

Until tomorrow,
Kelly

P.S. There’s been a Badfish sighting at Compass & Camera. One of the world’s most elusive and beloved travel bloggers has come to the surface in Bali. Welcome back and have a seat. We’ve missed you.

Daily Does of Beauty, March 20th

 

Daily Dose of Beauty Miscellaneous

Daily Dose of Beauty, March 19th

Daily Dose of Beauty, March 19th

March 19th, 2020

Today’s Daily Dose of Beauty is from Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. The chapel was completed in 1248 and the stained glass compositions “depict 1,113 scenes from the Old and New Testaments recounting the history of the world until the arrival of the relics in Paris.”

The experience of being here is truly breathtaking. That moment you look up and your eyes meet the color, the intricacy, the illumination … is not a moment you forget. It reaches your soul and broadens your understanding of what’s possible with imagination, creativity, time, and a dash of divine inspiration.

Believe in the miracles that can happen when we think and work together … even while being apart.

Until tomorrow,
Kelly

Daily Dose of Beauty Miscellaneous

Daily Dose of Beauty, March 18th

Daily Dose of Beauty by Compass & Camera

March 18, 2020

Namaste Readers,

Let’s all take a deep breath together. What a crazy time this is for all of us around the world. I hope each of you is heeding the warnings and doing everything you can to remain healthy. This is going to take a monumental collective effort to endure. Understand that anything you do to protect yourself also protects the people around you, some of whom may be older or more at risk than you are.

Today I’m starting a new series called Daily Dose of Beauty. While the travel industry shuts down and we watch the future change dramatically while sheltering in place (as many of us are doing voluntarily in the U.S.), I’ll share a daily image of nature, people or creativity around the world from the image library I’ve built during my travels over the past two decades.

I hope you’ll stop by to enjoy each day’s image and focus for a moment on how much good there is in the world, especially in the face of adversity. The gift of photography is its ability to transport us, connect us, engage us and – most importantly – help us feel and understand our shared humanity.

Please feel free to leave a comment and tell us all how you’re doing in your part of the world. Hearing from each other, connecting, sharing … it’s the only way we’ll get through this while existing in isolation.

Today, I share with you a sunset I savored last month before the world began to turn dark. The photo was taken just down the road from where I live in Lake Tahoe. Isn’t it profound how Mother Nature marches on and shows us her spectacular colors no matter the crisis or tragedy in front of us? We must all do the same, while finding optimism and solace in her wonder.

Until tomorrow,
Kelly

Daily Dose of Beauty Miscellaneous
Bodie, California

Bygone Bodie

Bodie State Historic Park Entrance

Bodie State Historic Park Entrance

The lore of Bodie has intrigued me (and J) for years, especially as we’ve explored the Eastern Sierra together since the year 2000. On numerous trips up and down Highway 395, we’ve wanted to turn east and visit this mysterious little town but we’ve never made the time. Finally, on a spring afternoon in May 2019, we’re nearing the end of the dirt road that leads to Bodie State Historic Park. Billowy clouds hang over the shallow basin where Bodie’s weathered buildings have stood for more than a century.

Bodie Park Entrance

Bodie Park Entrance

Initially, the gold rush of 1849 attracted people to this region. Mining continued into the late 1800s, during which Bodie grew to be a thriving community of more than 8,000 people. The town is named after W.S. Bodey, a New Yorker who struck gold here in 1859. He died in a blizzard just a few months later. Viewing the terrain now, at an elevation of more than 8,300 feet (2,500 meters), I imagine the plight of winter in Bodie. Surely this was a wind-whipped landscape prone to deep snowfall and freezing temperatures ~ a location tolerable only for its promise of riches.

In its heyday, 30 mines operated in Bodie but the industry steadily declined into the early 1900s as fewer mines were successful. Saloons, brothels and opium dens attracted a lawless population so the unfortunate mix of depression and debauchery led to Bodie’s abandonment by the 1940s.

What remains today is a captivating portrayal of American lifestyle more than one hundred years ago. Homes and businesses still stand, many of which feel suspended in time with the transiency of the era visible in the scenes left behind. It is as if someone just walked out the door – out every door of every building in Bodie – leaving it all behind to be discovered and appreciated later. And that is pretty much what happened. According to state park’s history, “The family of Bodie’s last major landowner, James S. Cain, hired caretakers to watch over the town and protect it from looters and vandals.” California State Parks purchased the town in 1962 and has been maintaining it ever since, in what they call a state of “arrested decay.”

Bodie Methodist Church

Bodie Methodist Church

It may be in decay, but much of Bodie is still beautiful. Walking down Green Street, I come to the town’s Methodist church. It is as picture-perfect as a set design from Little House and the Prairie, both inside and out. The siding shows its age but the architecture and window pattern have a timeless style that endures.

Bodie Bathtub

Bodie Bathtub

Mystery pervades Bodie. As we walk, we wonder how and when things came to rest – like this old bathtub in the middle of the road and wagons in various states of disrepair. What’s especially cool about Bodie is that it’s so accessible. Except for the Standard Mill (deemed hazardous) and some of the housing occupied by park rangers, visitors can meander the streets, walk up to the storefronts and look in the windows.

The Standard Mill, Bodie

The Standard Mill, Bodie

By my estimation, the current “town” covers about 120 acres of the larger 1,000-acre state park. Bodie had a cemetery, jail, bank, blacksmith shop, doctor’s office, bachelor’s boarding house, numerous hotels and many private homes – all totaling more than 2,000 structures at one point in time. An area known as Chinatown housed more than 250 Chinese residents. Other settlers came from across America as well as countries including Canada, Mexico, Ireland and England. Members of the Native American Paiute tribe also worked in the town.

Just over 100 buildings are still standing. On Main Street, the De Chambeau Hotel & Post Office and the I.O.O.F. Hall lean into each other like old friends. The hall was the gathering place of a “fraternal society” called the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. (Bodie does seem like the kind of town where you might have found a few odd fellows.) Looking in the hotel windows, we see a long bar with bottles still on the counter top and a wooden kiosk that probably held room keys or maybe letters delivered by Wells Fargo after they took over the Pony Express.

Swazey Hotel

Swazey Hotel

Across the street, the Swazey Hotel (1894) fights to stay upright with one eye open and a brace on the north side. The abandoned truck on the south side is only about a block from the petrol pumps outside the general store.

The interior of Boone Store & Warehouse is a time capsule of the household items of the day: holeproof hosiery in “Paris colors,” Kellogg’s Tasteless Castor Oil, aspirin, razors, sauerkraut, Vita Oil, Mozart Magics cigars, coffee, Ghirardelli’s ground chocolate, Taylor’s concentrated vanilla and even Bay Rum natural deodorant. According to Bay Rum history spanning 175 years, their product was made by steeping bay leaves in rum which created a scented “aftershave” for men, who bathed less frequently back then.

Spices at the general store

Spices at the general store

High-quality spices must have been in demand judging from the store’s large elaborate tins of allspice, Borneo ginger, Batavia cinnamon (from present-day Jakarta, Indonesia) and Amboyna cloves (from present-day Maluku, Indonesia). Ground mustard occupies an entire shelf, packaged in one-, two- and three-pound canisters produced by G. Venard’s spice company in San Francisco.

Wheaton & Luhrs Store

Wheaton & Luhrs Store

Across the street, Wheaton & Luhrs has been standing since 1880. It’s one of my favorite buildings with its paned windows and double doors letting in so much light. With a few repairs and a new coat of wood stain, the place would look just as welcoming now as it must have looked back in the day.

The tiny firehouse was rebuilt in the 1930s. In addition to a couple buggies, it holds a mobile water supply and hose. It all feels a little inadequate considering nearly all of Bodie’s buildings are wood. There were two major fires in 1892 and 1932.

Bodie Schoolhouse

Bodie Schoolhouse

The schoolhouse was in operation until 1942. With a quick peek through the windows we see a room full of desks covered in a thick layer of dust. Each desk has at least one book on it. The day’s lesson still lingers on the chalkboard, with fractions and cursive writing (sorry – too much light at the window to get a good photo but google has lots!).

It’s fun to wander Bodie’s streets imagining life 140 years ago while looking for ghosts and picking out the perfect little house:

Little Bodie House

Little Bodie House

And there you have it, folks. The American single family home of the late 1800s. My, how things have changed.

If you’re ever in the neighborhood, Bodie is located between Bridgeport and Yosemite, about 13 miles east of Highway 395. It’s best to visit in the spring, summer or fall when the roads are clear. The park is open daily and admission (cash or check) is $8 for adults and $5 for kids 4-17. The site is accessible by foot or wheelchair on the town’s dirt roads. Occasionally the park stays open into the evening, giving photographers a chance to capture the scene at dusk and giving ghost hunters a chance to encounter … the lingering spirit of Bodie.

Miscellaneous