Sunday Lifestyle

Bhutan in four days, 197 monks, one shoe

SUPREMO - The Philippine Star

I look at myself as an active person, a go-getter who stops at nothing to achieve a certain goal. I never give up and am always up for an adventure that’ll give me a big check on my bucket list. But the events that follow challenged all of that.

I had to pass up trips to Bhutan twice, due to schedule conflicts, so when the third offer came, this time for Harlan + Holden — a brand I look up to and admire for their easy-breezy, minimalist ways of dressing — I couldn’t say no.

They were launching the Camino, a line of footwear that’s good for the sole. Armed with Senso Memory Foam, the same kind you have in your Tempur pillow, the Caminos promise to be the lightest thing you’ll ever put on your feet. Yes, lighter and even more comfortable than your favorite flip-flops.

So, armed with my white, beige, baby blue and gray mesh Caminos, I set forth to the kingdom described as the “Happiest Place on the Planet,” wanting to see for myself how the happiest people in the world actually live. For this trip, I packed all my Caminos and neutral-colored clothes, as opposed to the printed and loud ones I usually bring. Going to Bhutan is like entering your inner Zen state, so I packed “light” (yes, it’s possible), especially since the Caminos are so light, they ease the stress of overweight baggage.



No expectations

I must admit, I wasn’t expecting much. The photos I saw of Bhutan from friends’ social media accounts were not so impressive. But I had to see it for myself. Travel is all about the experience and everybody experiences things differently.

The first day’s trek proved to be extra challenging for us city dwellers who are used to being pampered and served. Here, you are on your own while climbing up and down the mountain. Our Aman guide was more than helpful, even lunging forward just to catch me one time when I almost rolled down the mountain. Some of us were fast (21-year-old artist Monica Zobel Urquijo and athletic blogger Kim Jones) while some of us (like photo man Mark Nicdao and stylist Liz Uy) were comfortably panting at the back.

On horseback initially, then trekking though the slopes of Takstang mountain, we could finally see Tiger’s Nest from afar. It seemed so near, but three hours into the trek, we still weren’t there. A walk like this takes more than physical strength; it takes patience, mental stubbornness, and maybe an inner voice that is telling you, “Go, go, go. Onwards and upwards!” Now I know why the hashtag for the trip was “#CaminoChallenge.”

Just a bit of history: the Camino started centuries ago, when pilgrims would walk the entire stretch towards Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Doing so increases your points in plenary indulgence, and was said to increase your chances of getting into the gates of heaven.

Tiger’s nest

This particular Camino Challenge was to reach Tiger’s Nest and explore the temple. And taking lots of pictures and Instagram posts while you’re at it, of course. (Check out #CaminoChallenge on IG.) My guide was right: after all that trekking, it felt like heaven being so high up above and praying to the gods of the temple, and being thankful that, in that short moment we had, we were in heaven.

Heaven wasn’t exactly my goal, though, when, during day two of our trek, we climbed yet another mountain, this time in Thimphu. Our legs were now sore and numb from the previous day’s climb toward the Tiger’s Nest. I was already doubting whether I could really do it. I also didn’t want to dirty my squeaky-clean Caminos. These shoes were my best companions (aside from the people we were with), so I didn’t want to disrespect them.

After a few hours of nonstop trekking, we arrived at a view of a majestic monastery surrounded by a few simple homes — like a little Smurf’s village hidden away in some obscure part of that mountain. There, we saw some of our Bhutan mates who had gone ahead — Caroline Issa of Tank magazine, who is such a lovely soul to travel with; and Jeremy Langmead, a.k.a. Mr. Porter Live and former editor-in-chief of Wallpaper and Esquire UK. Both of them are fashion media powerhouses but were the most humble and down-to-earth people you’ll ever meet.

An intricate Buddhist arch welcomed us at Dodedrak monastery and there, exactly 197 monks were all wearing brown Caminos, specially made for them by the folks at Harlan + Holden, the same people who would write bedside notes for us with a little token (from prayer bells to personalized stamps and more) each night before looking forward to the next day’s adventure. Later that day, the monks gave us a ceremonial blessing. The chants and music put us all in a trance, like we were high — on a naturally enlightened level.

To say that this trip was unforgettable is an understatement. One week after Bhutan, I still don’t know how it changed me, but it did. I was able to push my boundaries, conquer certain fears, say “Yes” when my mind wanted to say “No,” and open my mind to a whole world of possibilities. In the end, the already happy person that I am just got happier.

I guess sometimes you have to climb mountains to rediscover your inner light.

* * *

More adventures at @officialtimyap on Snapchat, Twitter and Instagram.

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