Wednesday, July 4

Preparing for La Ultra-The High 2012 (Being a Support Crew)

"Hope for the best, prepare for the worst."

That has been always my motto in all my outdoor adventures. I learn this from my trekking escapades for more than 10 years now. And I apply this not just to my treks and expeditions but also to all my races and other facets of my life.

And I am thinking the same as I am preparing for my ultra trip to India to support an ultra race and to do an ultra full marathon (my very first on high altitude). Finally my long time dream of visiting  India has come to a reality, thanks to my friend who invited me to be part of his support crew. But I am not too sure what to expect, what to prepare, most especially what to pack. This will be my very first travel to India and my very first time to support an ultra race. With that I tried to come up with a list, on what possible gears to bring, what clothes to prepare and what food to expect. We will be in two different places in India. It's summer by July and August, it will be hot in New Delhi they said but it will also be cold up in the Himalayas, in Leh, Lahdak.

After reading Sharon Gayter's race report about her experience during the 2011 La Ultra - The High, it makes me more excited but nervous at the same time as the race schedule is fast approaching.  With barely 33 days to go before our departure date,  it dawned in my mind what really to prepare, aside from the fact that I need to be physically fit, something that I have been working on the past six months. I know I need to be organized and focus on what needs to be done before I leave for this event. The yahoo e-group that the race organizer Rajat formed helped a lot, first timer to crew an ultra race like me gets so much tips from the participants before. Sharon Gayter's Race Report on La Ultra - The High 2011 Race Her dramatic finish on last years La Ultra gives me goosebumps while reading it. Such a strong woman who never gives up.

Plane ticket
The team needs to rendezvous at New Delhi, India for it is where we are going to catch up for a domestic flight to Leh, the northern part of Indian Himalaya. So New Delhi has to be my entry point for the La Ultra - The High from Manila. There are many options of what airlines to take from Manila. In my case I look for options like PAL, Air Asia via Clark to KL, Malaysian Air, Jet Star, among the few airlines that fly from Manila. Lucky for me PAL offered a promo for their frequent flyer clients, using the mileage I earned for several years of flying with them, I purchased a super low fare. I just have to arrive New Delhi late in the evening.

On getting a visa 
The government of India has introduced a Tourist-Visa -On-Arrival policy to all Philippine passport holders effective January 1, 2011. Tourist visa on arrival shall be granted by the Immigration Officers at Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata airports and shall be valid for a maximum of 30 days with single entry. Tourist Visa On Arrival for Philippine Nationals This qualifies me but because we are arriving late in the evening, we thought of getting the visa before leaving Manila. Guidelines and requirements for Tourist Visa for India. 

Philippine office of the Indian Embassy, and on processing the Indian tourist visa.    
As per advised by my friends who has been to India and by my friend sponsoring this trip for me, it's best to acquire the visa before leaving the Philippines for we will arrive New Delhi late in the evening. 

Philippine Address of the Indian Embassy in Makati: 
2190 Paraiso St. 
Dasmarinas Village, 
Makati City 
Tel. 843-0101/843-0102

I learned filing the visa directly to the embassy is a bit of a challenge. The village do not allow private car that does not have a Multi-village or Dasma stricker or a taxi inside but rather oblige each applicant to avail their bus shuttle that cost PhP150.00 and has to pass by theDasma Barangay office for a fee. This is because Dasma Village Association have banned applicants from wanting to go to the Embassy if the applicant's name is not listed with the security guards at the gate by the Indian Embassy. 

With getting the services of  BLS International Services Limited as a the outsourcing partner of the Indian Embassy, going through the hassle in applying direct to the office has been lessened. One just have to pay a Lodging Fee of PhP148.00. 

BLS International Services Limited address:
Unit 601-A (6th Floor) One Corporate Plaza
Arnaiz Avenue, Makati City
Submission: 9:00 to 1:30 M-F
Releasing: 4:30 to 5:30 M-F

The following are the list of requirements that needs to be ready when applying:
* 2 passport size photos
* Passport valid at least for 6 months w/ photocopy
* Return Ticket or Airline Computer Print out with Ticket Numbers

Additional documents asked from us:
*Invitation Letter from India
*Photo copy of the bio page and last page of the passport of the contact person in India
*Bank Certificate/Bank Statement/Photocopy of the passbook

Visa Fee. We are applying for a tourist visa with a fee of PhP2,100.00. But upon seeing our letter of invitation which we will be joining a race, the lady assessing our application said we are subject for visa assessment for she feels we do not fall under the Tourist visa category since we are not going on a tour but rather on a race. That makes me sad, the fee for that is twice it's cost to a tourist visa fee. But we also do not want to argue for it might cause problem when in the mountain range of the Indian Himalayas.

The service at BLS International Services is fast, office is just small but not crowded with applicants. But because we specifically stated that we are going to India to crew for a race as stated on the letter forwarded to us by the race organizer, the officers now firmly believes that we do not fall on a tourist visa category. They subject to visa assessment which we courdially agreed. A week passed, we have not heard any news from the embassy, we decided to pull out our application and do the very last recourse of this trip, get an Upon Entry Visa as Philippines is one of those countries that can get one.
Doing such is not an easy one,  how can I prepare and leave the country with excitement and fun when the very basic of securing a visa is not granted to us. Thanks to the diplomatic relations between India and the Philippines, the Upon Entry Tourist Visa is available. We rely so much on that now. After 9 hours of  plane ride with an hour stop over at Bangkok we finally arrive Delhi an impressive airport compared to what we have. We are guided to the Immigration desk that process upon entry visa and luckily  the office incharge is just really very very friendly and kind. It was not  a difficult one for us, we just follow his i ntructions, had chitchats here and there and stamped our passports, the complete opposite of wjhat we expereinced back home.

Gears Needed in the Race 
A post from Rajat on what to bring mostly pertinent to clothing is such a big help. The list somehow gives me a picture on what I should bring to keep myself warm when the weather gets too cold and gets too hot.

Temperatures go like yo -yo up there. Be ready for very hot to very cold. 

List of winter clothes:

- Down Jacket or something really warm. 
- same or separate jacket that is water proof and wind proof
- basic rules in mountains is layers, not only one thick jacket. Get multiple t-shirts and jackets
- inners both for legs and upper body
- good gloves & caps (don't bank on Leh for these)
- sleeping bag: Yatra will organise them but if you are too fussy, get your own. I bought mine last year. Problem is you aren't allowed a lot of weight on flights. Only 20 kgs

List of summer things you'll otherwise forget:

- Sunglasses / shades : radiation at the altitude can be as much as 60% more than at sea level
- sun block : yes available in Leh but might as well take from home
- good shady hat to match your shady character

Abhijit Yeole on the other hand forwarded another list that supports that of Rajat. Having seen both lists, I can now see this will be packing like I am going to a climb expedition. Being a support crew to Seow Kong, I need to bring whatever I can think of to keep him up bit on the race. Stove and cook set could be one of those gear that I need to bring from home.

Items to Carry:  

  • Long Sleeve Thermal Top and Long Leg Thermal Pants
  • Reflector jackets or just something which you can wear as a reflector at night
  • Beanie or Balaclava or Equivalent
  • Running Shoes, Trail Running Shoes
  • Socks as many as you can carry
  • Full fingered lightweight thermal gloves
  • Whistle
  • Zip Lock bags for your personal rubbish
  • Portable Heater for Instant heating – Water/Coffee/Tea/Milk/Soup,etc
  • Basic First Aid Kit + Diamox Tablets
  • Spoons and Mugs
  • Torches, torches with blinkers
  • Sunscreen and Lip-Balms
  • Antibacterial wipes for use after toilet stops and Hand Sanitizer to clean hands before preparing or handling food
  • Toilet Paper
  • At least one camera :)

Having a clearer picture now of how my almost 20 days in Leh, India, this is my addition of gears to what is listed above. 

cook set 
mess kit (cup, plate, spoon and fork) 
buff (headware) 
running shoes (one for road and one for trail) 

An email reply from Bill Andrews too is a big help about internet connection and  mobile phone. At least I know that I can access the internet from time to time to check on my emails. I just have to.

Two years ago I brought an international phone with me that rarely worked. Also, the internet in the entire city of Leh goes down for days sometimes. 2 years ago you could not get internet from the guest house. But, there are internet cafĂ©’s every other block in Leh where you can go and use their computers for a fee. But when the internet goes done they all close. 

Vaccine and Necessary Pills 
My vaccine shots has been updated for I made sure I update it prior to a major expedition, with my recent Mt. Aconcagua trip less than a year ago, I had it almost all updated, except anti rabies. The only vaccine that the organizer recommends when I asked. Not really a requirement entering the country but as my precautionary measure, I make sure I am well covered. There are stray dogs on route of the race. Ok then, I will definitely take this. 

I always bring with me my tablets containing my daily medicine especially that for cough and colds, fever, muscle pain, diarrhea, water purifying tablet, vitamins and my energy booster tablets. But one thing that I have to add is the altitude sickness pills, Diamox. I do not intend to use it, but I hope I will be able to adapt to the altitude but if worst case comes, I have with me this tablet.  

Electricity Outlets and Communications
India gsm frequency is 900/1800 2G and GPRS SMS prepaid only. But to be sure of a frequency signal, bring a 3G phone. Sending an sms using a Philippine sim card will cost PhP17.73 per message.  

5A heavy-duty adapter plug allows voltage converters, heavy-duty transformers and dual-voltage appliances to fit most electrical outlets found in India. It is safe and easy to use.

Travel Insurance
Not an entry requirement but in my international travels especially those that involve high risks and outdoor adventures, I see to it that I get a  travel coverage that will take care of luggage lose, flight delays, airlift transfers, hospitalization and repatriation. This will be for my peace mind if something will happen to me on this trip. 


India Wikitravel
(work on progress)


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