After a two year gap I'm setting off to lead another school expedition, this time to India. There are 10 students, between the ages of 16 and 18, and I have a teacher and an assistant leader, so there are 13 of us.
I'm travelling down to Uxbridge today, ready for the final preparation day tomorrow. We fly to Delhi on Tuesday evening then after a night there, fly to Leh, in the Ladakh region of Kashmir - in the Himalayas. We've got 2 community projects, which I'm very excited about. One is at a school, helping to teach English, and the other is at a village where we will be helping to build a greenhouse so that food can be grown all year round in the harsh conditions. We're also doing a 5 night trek, which takes us up to 5000m, and we're ending the trip by doing some sight seeing - the Taj Mahal, Jaipur, Delhi. I suspect access to the internet will be almost none existent in the Himalayas but I'll do my best to update when I can. Watch this space.
Location: Penrith, England
It's nearly a month since my last update - in the words of Fairport Convention - who knows where the time goes?
So a brief summary of the rest of my expedition:
After our Longido trek we had a day's safari in the Tangariro National Park. This was awesome! Last time I was in Tanzania I was disappointed not to have seen elephants - this time I saw loads! Also saw lions, zebra, wart hogs, giraffe, buffalo, impala, baboons. One day, when I can't walk so high and far, I might do a longer safari, so I can watch the animals for a long time.
The tent saga - I wont go into the details, but it took up a lot of time and energy, I nearly bought a new one, but it was a fake, and finally got a taxi at 6.30 in the morning to the Messerani Snake Park, 25 Km out of Arusha, and picked one up from another expedition leader, just in time for our next camping trip, to the community project.
We spent 5 days at a village called Poli, about an hour from Arusha, at the base of Mount Meru. We camped in the garden of the village chairman - Mr Pelangyo, and his wife, who were excellent hosts. Each day we walked up to the local primary school - Nkoakirika - to help build a new toilet block. This was mainly labouring, but some of the students also learned how to lay bricks. On the Sunday morning we attended a 3 hour Pentecostal church service, then in the afternoon there was a football match between us and the local village children - they won!
The 5 days we spent here were some of the best of the month - it was an amazing experience to live in the local village and meet the people - something you never get to do as a tourist. We walked up to the project every day through banana plantations, under planted by coffee and beans. Although we were self catering using trangias, Mrs Pelangyo cooked us a meal on the last night, which was delicious.
After one night spent back in Arusha, we then started our trek up Kilimanjaro. This took a total of 8 days, during which many people felt ill, and the success of the group was due to a combined effort of everyone concerned, as well as the fantastic guides and crew who led us and looked after us in every way.
After Kili we spent a couple of nights in Moshi, which is at the base of Kili. It was good to have proper toilets again, although the facilities for some of weren't great - 3 of the boys and myself had to share a wash basin which was in reception - literally! We then had a ten and a half hour bus journey back to Dar Es Salaam.
We spent one night there, at the same hostel, and it was great to have en suite facilities, including a hot shower. Then we travelled north to Bagamoyo, for some rest and recuperation.
Bagamoyo is a small fishing village on the Indian Ocean and it was lovely and warm. We stayed in a very luxurious hotel, where the rooms were individual buildings in the huge gardens, right next to the ocean. We spent our last couple of days in Tanzania lazing on the beach and sorting ourselves out ready for the return to "normality".
We finally got back to the UK on 7 August. What an amazing month! Lots of ups and downs (literally and otherwise!) but I think it's changed us all in some way or other. So the question is - what next? I don't know yet, but I will be doing something exciting in the future, that's for sure!
Location: Penrith, UK
I got back nearly 2 weeks ago - where has the time gone? Sorry I didn't get the chance to update this more often - there was very little opportunity, and when I did find internet cafes they were very slow. As I had various emails to send to the Operations Room I didn't have much time left to do anything else - that was when I could send emails at all!
So - a brief summary of my trip: (I will probably have to do this in 2 or 3 goes)
We arrived in Dar Es Salaam on time, after a stop over in Dubai, where I started the students thinking about how they were going to function as a group. There was a bit of resistance to my suggestions at first, but it all resolved itself well.
First job for them on arrival - find transport to our accommodation! Charlie bravely went out and negotiated a price with a taxi driver - a bit over budget, but we got there safely. It was great to have a shower after the long journey, even if the hostel was quite basic. And the manager lent me some Tanzanian shillings so that we could buy some food - it's much more expensive using US$.
The next day was spent planning the rest of the trip and booking accommodation and transport. Then we had a 12 hour bus journey from Dar to Arusha - quite an experience! And we had the added complication of some lost tent poles, which meant I had to find another tent for 2 of the girls. I wont go into the details here but will let you know the outcome later.
There were a few days when I had to report in to the ops room, which I did via satellite phone. This would only work outside, with a clear view of the sky. So in almost every place we stayed I had to take one of the male teachers with me as a body guard - sat phones are an expensive and temping bit of kit!
Our first trek was up Mount Longido, which was part of a Culture Tourism Project by the Masaai people. This was very enjoyable for most, but quite hard physically, especially for those people in the group who had become ill due to the change in food and water. We all had to carry all of our gear, including tents. It was also a culture shock for some - the toilet at the camp site was pretty good as far as holes in the ground go - it was just that many didn't appreciate it at the time! Mount Longido is "only" 2604m but it was a good preparation for what was to come, in many ways.
We finished our trek with a visit to a Masaai boma (village) where we got a look at the inside of their huts and learned a lot about the Masaai culture. So much of Tanzania operates on a subsistence level but they seem to have a very happy, positive disposition, and we all experienced a change in our outlook and priorities in life. I know that sounds very cliched - but it was still true.
More to follow in a future entry!
Location: Moshi, Tanzania
I have finally found time and an internet connection to do a quick entry. We returned from a successful ascent of Kilimanjaro yesterday all 13 of us got to the top, but quite a few were quite ill. We've also climbed Mount Longido, been on safari and done 5 days of a community project which was very rewarding. We've got just less than a week left I will do a longer entry and post some photos when I get home. Everyone is in good spirits but quite tired after our trek. Am looking forward to a drink when I get home, although a month without alcohol is doing my liver the world of good!
Location: Penrith, England
I'm off again on my travels - this time it's paid work! I'm leading a school expedition to Tanzania for a month, which includes an ascent of Kilimanjaro. There are 9 students, aged 17, and 3 teachers, so 13 of us altogether. I travel down to Hayes, in Middlesex,tomorrow, for our Final Preparation Day on Thursday 11 July, then we fly out to Dar Es Salaam that evening. I have to report in to the expedition company on pre-determined days, so hopefully I will have time to add to this after my reports. I don't know if I'll be able to get photos on easily, so I may have to add them when I get home. We arrive back in the UK on 7 August. It's all very exciting, especially as this is the first expedition I've led. It's lucky I like being out of my comfort zone!!!
So I'l try to add things when I can. Next stop Dar Es Salaam, followed a couple of days later by a 12 hour bus journey to Arusha. Watch this space!
Location: Kathmandu, Nepal
I summited Mera Peak at 9am on Saturday 27 October. It was very cold and was physically demanding, but worth it - the views were stunning! We could see 5 of the 6 peaks over 8000m in Nepal, including Everest. Out of the 7 people who started the trip only the 3 women summited. One guy was air lifted out after a few days, 2 gave up on the way and one managed to get to the top of the south summit, which was a bit lower and not technically as difficult.
I'm now back in Kathmandu, waiting for my flight home at 11.45pm. I've spent the last couple of days lazing by the pool in the sun, drinking beer and bloody marys. It's a bit of a contrast from 2 weeks of camping in the freezing cold on the edge of precipices with only a hole in the ground for a loo if we were lucky!
I'll put some photos on this page when I get back to the UK - the technology isn't up to it here.
It's been a great 3 weeks and I'm now thinking what's next?
Watch this space for photos after 5 November. x
Location: Lukla, Nepal
My journey to Kathmandu was uneventful, although long. I had nearly 4 hours in Doha, with nothing much to do - I didn't dare go to sleep in case I missed my connection. The arrival at Kathmandu was slightly remeniscent of the USA, without the interrogation. On arrival I had to queue to get a visa, along with most of the plane, I think. It took nearly 2 hours and I was worried that the KE people would go without me, thinking I wasn't turning up. However, it turned out that there was only me and one other person this flight, and he got through about the same time as me. We had an interesting drive through night time Kathnmandu - the roads are very poor - narrow and full of potholes. The traffic is manic and there were many small shops that only had candles to light them. It is the most impoverished capital city I've ever been to.
We met up with the rest of our group in the bar for a much needed beer. There are 7 of us - 3 women and 4 guys. Everyone seems very nice and we've got a very friendly UK guide called Ingrid. I'm sharing a room and tent with an American woman called Kerry.
We had an early start on Monday, to catch the 8.20am flight. We finally took off at 12.10 - this was a short delay apparently! The flight to Lukla was interesting, although a bit cloudy so the views weren't quite a spectacular as I'd hoped. The ride was a bit bumpy, as it was a small plane (12 seater I think - a Twin Otter - the American guy in our group asked why otter? They can't fly!) but it was OK. The landing was very smooth, despite the horror stories I'd read and seen on Youtube. The runway is very short and slopes quite steeply upwards but all was well.
We spent last night in a lodge right next to the airport - Lukla is so small that everything is right next to the airport. Its a quaint village with lots of shops where you can probably buy just about everything. I realised on the plane that I'd left 2 of my spare camera batteries in the hotel. But I found a shop that sold batteries and they actually had the right one. Another guy had bought a universal battery charger, so I'm charging my new battery with his charger.
We set off on our trek after lunch today, then it will be 15 nights camping. We hope to summit on Mera Peak on Saturday 27 October. I'm keen to get started - I've eaten far too much and done no exercise since Sunday!
Nepal is different to anywhere else I've been - but I like it very much and the people are really friendly.
We stay in Lukla when we finish our trek in 2 weeks time - I'll try to do another entrry then.
Location: PENRITH, UK
It's very exciting! I fly out to Kathmandu on 14 October for 3 weeks in Nepal. This will be the most challenging trip I've done so far. Mera Peak is 6476m (21247ft) and it's going to be cold! In fact I'm off again "camping in the freezing cold with the threat of bears" and yeti!!! Hope my merino wool base layers, double layer mountaineering boots and down jacket do the job. And I'm taking some hand warmers!
I probably wont have time to do a blog entry when I get to Kathmandu on Monday but will try to do one when I return from the climb on 1 November. I'll put some photos on the page when I get back to the UK.
The flight goes via Doha, in Qatar. I have to confess I had to Google it to find out where it is. The internal flight from Kathmandu to Lukla should be interesting - I kind of wish I hadn't watched the YouTube videos now!
Anyway - watch this space.
Location: Bristol, UK
Well, I'm back! (As Sam said at the end of LOTR). My evening and night camping in Beaune were wet, due to a thunder storm, so I took the tent down wet and dried it in the back of the car. My last night was in St Omer, which was a quiet town, not really that touristy, mainly people like me passing through on their way to or from the channel ports. But it was pleasant enough and there were some nice public gardens.
I got to Calais early and so managed to get an earlier ferry back. The drive through Kent was straight forward, then I got onto the M25. There's a lot to be said for toll motorways! After driving over 4 000 miles in France and Italy, which were on the whole very enjoyable, I forgot about our overcrowded, snarled up motorways. So a journey that should have taken 3.75 hours back to Bristol ended up taking over 5 hours. Hey ho!!
It's nice to be back in the UK, where I can have conversations with people. And the weather's nice and warm, so it's not been too much of a shock.
Already I'm planning for my next trip - to Nepal on 14 October. Not sure whether I'll be able to do much of a blog, as I'll be camping for most of the time. but watch this space.
My next move is to find somewhere to live back up in Cumbria - I miss the mountains.
Keep in touch x
Location: Le Puy-en-Valey, France
I had a very enjoyable drive over the Alps, via the Picolo/Petit St Bernard Pass, which is on the border between Italy and France and is 2188m high. It took ages due to the steep winding roads (and slow drivers) but I'm sure it cost less than the Mont Blanc Tunnel.
My first impression of Le Puy-en-Valey was not great. The hotel is in an out of town shopping area - not very scenic, and the only restaurants are a Chinese and a Buffalo Grill - not what I had in mind! It does have free wifi and parking though, and is nice and quiet. But today has been really good. I left the car at the hotel and walked into Le Puy along a very pleasant path by the River Borne, a tributary of the Loire, which it flows into very close to where I'm staying. The path is part of the GR65 - the Chemin de St-Jacques, or Camino de Santiago. I've been interested in this walk since reading Paulo Coelho's book The Pilgrimage a few years ago. I will definitely have to read again.
Le Puy is a very interesting, ancient town. I spent all day wondering around, following a well thought out tourist route (in English!). Of course I couldn't come to Le Puy and not eat lentils, so I had a really nice lunch of lentilles vert et saucisse de pays, with a bolle (cup) of cidre brut. I also sampled some of the local digestif liquer- Vervaine Velay, which is really nice, so I bought a small bottle. The highlight of the day was the cathedral. It's the starting point for the Camino de Santiago in France and is a really good place to be in. It's quite big and there are lots of amazing works of art, frescos etc, and the famous Black Madonna, but it's not overly ostentatious like some Catholic cathedrals I've seen. It has a really good feeling about it, especially in one of the side chapels. Those of you who read my USA blog may remember the bit about the energy vortices in Sedonna, which I was a bit sceptical about. Well, if such things exist, there was one in the Chapel of the Holy Sacrament. It had an amazing feeling about it, which I've experienced in only a few places, including Glastonbury, Machu Picchu, and New York.
I finished the afternoon by walking up to Saint-Michel-d'Aiguilhe - a chapel built in 961 on the top of a volcanic cone. This was very interesting, but not the "emotional" experience the literature promised. There was a guide in there describing the various frescos, treasures etc, which I just about understood. I've been trying to speak French all day, which has been possible because not many people here speak English. I even had a conversation in a shop with a guy who didn't speak any English at all! Trouble is, as I have spent the last month in Italy, I sometimes reply to people in Italian - it's very confusing (not that my Italian is much good).
So tomorrow I head up to Beaune, where I have reserved a camp site. Then Thursday I'll be in St Omer, and Friday home.