Arrival in Bhutan & Reconnecting with Friends

After several long days of travel, I arrived in Bhutan at about 11:30 am local time on Thursday, January 10. If you are interested in the travel details, I wrote up some “Route Talk” below (thanks to This American Life for that idea!). Upon arrival at the Paro International Airport (one of the most amazing airport landings in the world!), I met Wangchuk – our host and guide – who drove me on to Thimphu, where Kate and I reconnected. Wangchuk is a Curriculum Officer in the Ministry of Education specializing in health and physical education. Last year he attended one of our workshops in Bhutan, and he is a perfect host and guide for our visit, a model of place-based learning. In addition to his curriculum duties with the Ministry of Education, Wangchuk is a prolific author, professional photographer, scout master, substance abuse counselor and body builder. About 10 years ago when Wangchuk was a teacher, a student asked him to identify a wildflower. When he realized he did not know it, Wangchuk began a quest to learn as many wildflowers as he could. Ten years later, he has written two guides to the wildflowers of Bhutan as well as a guide to the high alpine medicinal plants of Bhutan. Needless to say, Kate and I have asked him about ten million questions, and we are soaking up all the information that he can share with us.We also got to reconnect with two good friends of Teton Science Schools over dinner in Thimphu – Jigme Norbu, graduate program alumni from 2011-12, and Bhumika Ghalley, long-time TSS contact in Bhutan and guest to Teton Science Schools is January 2010. It was a great treat to get to catch up with Jigme and Bhumika over a delicious meal of traditional Bhutanese food (ema datsi – the National Dish of Bhutan that is made of cheesy chilis with mushrooms, rice – LOTS of it, and many other tasty, spicy dishes). In the photo, Jigme is in front, then myself, Bhumika and Kate (left to right); yes, it was chilly in the restaurant so we kept on our puffy coats.

We spent our first full day in Bhutan traveling by car about 6 hours to Damphu where we will spend the next 10 days conducting our place-based education workshop. The drive was beautiful – over a 3700 meter (just over 12,000 feet) Douchala pass and through the Punakha River canyon. The venue for the workshop at the Damphu Higher Secondary School looks beautiful, and we are eager to begin our workshop with 24 teachers tomorrow.

Route TalkBhutan is not an easy place to get to. For the past many years there has only been one airline that flies into Bhutan from about six other airports. Recently a new airline has started that is adding flights and a bit of competition to the market. My journey to Bhutan included 6 flights and two lengthy delays and one incredible travel agent who re-booked me when it looked like I might not make my first international flight. I flew from Jackson (first delay due to frozen water lines on the airplane) to Salt Lake to Portland (this was the re-booking because of the delay out of Jackson) to Tokyo (where I had a six hour delay because of a late airplane) to Bangkok to Guwelati, India to Paro, Bhutan. When I finally got to lay down in my hotel in Thimphu, I was very glad to get some sleep!Travel within Bhutan is also slow going. Roads are very narrow and windy and include obstacles ranging from cows to yaks to monkeys to speeding lorry trucks. Our driver Sangay took incredible care of us on the long journey.

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