November 3, 2009


I thought trekking in the Andes would be tough, and so it was. 

But everything is relative. 

Upon my return from Peru, I learned of  a rather more extreme adventure embarked upon by my uncle Christopher (my late father’s brother) and his son, my cousin Angus.

Apparently, in March and April of this year, they went dog-sledding across artic Alaska for three weeks, camping out in the wilderness in temperatures up to minus 35 degrees.

Not for charity.  Just for the hell of it.

Only Uncle Christopher didn’t quite make it.  After two days of his Arctic trek, he got severe frostbite on both hands and spent the next seven to eight weeks being treated.

As he rather glibly put it, “It could have been worse – I only lost bits of three fingers.”

Angus continued the trip for three weeks and took many wonderful pictures, like the example above.  You can see the others, as well as some amazing video footage, on his blog of the trip.

Here’s the link.


The end

October 4, 2009

edinburgh airport

So, that’s it then.

La Paz-Lima, Lima-Madrid, Madrid-Heathrow.  And the last wee hop up to Edinburgh.

Oh, and not forgetting the car drive home.

Thirty six and a half hours of solid schlepping.  Incorporating a plethora of check in desks, an interrogation of passport controls, a perspiration of customs checks (well, you never know, some wag might have slipped a handful of coca leaves into our luggage), an indigestion of airline meals, a snooze of in-flight movies and whatever the collective noun is for mile-high drinking.

I know – an intoxication.

It’s nice to be back home in the bosom of one’s family. 

On the other hand, travel is a blast.

Kilimanjaro anyone?

What’s on the menu 8

October 2, 2009

No rat relatives on the menu today.  Nothing remotely funny about the name of the dish.  And everything we ate for lunch in our first Bolivian restaurant was legal, decent, honest-to-goodness grub.

It was just the price we thought out of the ordinary.  See if you agree.

First course – a help yourself, all you can eat salad bar.

salad bar












Second course – soup. My command of  the Spanish language is such that I can’t help you with the name of the dish, but there was definitely some lamb in there, as well as assorted vegetables, cream, chilli, garlic, olive oil, turmeric and other good stuff. 

Looked and tasted home made and jolly toothsome too.


Course three – linguini bolognese. Nothing more to add, other than it was fresh and there was plenty of it.


Finally, the dessert – trifle.


Total for four courses, £1.96 a head.

Coffee was included, but wine was extra.  My large glass of Argentinian Malbec Reserve came in at 80p.

They always get you on the drinks.


Banksy, eat your heart out

October 1, 2009


Lima unfortunately has a bad rep, which is a bit unfair.

We were very cautious about grabbing a cab after stories of strangle muggings but walking around Miraflores and Barranco was fine. Miraflores and Barranco are the “Posh” neighbourhoods and despite the nicer houses having an 8 foot electrified fence outside them, felt pretty safe. They are also situated along the cliff top coast line which gives an impressive view for a capital city.

Security in our hostel was one metal perimeter gate and one internal wooden door. We thought this gave an unfair impression about security.

It was strange to be amongst ultra modern buildings and civilisation after setting off from a place where locals still live in mud brick houses and roads are not paved!

Amost every building was covered with great graffiti.

In Peru you don’t need to read up on the politics, you just need to read the graffiti on every wall to know what´s going on!


What’s on the menu 7

October 1, 2009

jungle potato

There is, reportedly, an awful lot of coffee in Brazil.

Similarly, there are 3,000 varieties of potato in Peru. 1,500 of which are in common every day use.

This, apparently, wasn‘t enough choice for our Peruvian porters. So they went out into the jungle and dug up some wild potatoes for our dinner (see above).

Once peeled and roasted, they looked a bit like giant, thick-cut chips.  

And tasted even better.

We asked what they were called, expecting perhaps a botanical name, or, at the very least, an epithet of Quechuan origin.

“Jungle potatoes,” came the reply.

 Ask a silly question.

World’s Most Dangerous Road

October 1, 2009
Death road team talk tactics on the edge

Death road team talk tactics on the edge

Pete persuaded me to do another weird thing: cycle down the World’s most Dangerous Road (WMDR).

The 60 km stretch of road, most of which has been blasted into the side of sheer cliff face, was named WMDR in 1995 after a whopping 26 vehicles whizzed off the edge into oblivion within one year.

As you may imagine, I wasn’t actually that keen on doing this bike ride… but as this road is the only way to arrive in a lovely town in the sub tropical jungle we all wanted to visit, I let Helen and Pete wheedle me into it.

The day before leaving we were asking the tour company for info about what to wear etc and I thought I would cut to the chase.

“How many tourists have died on this trip?” I asked. I nearly fainted when she coolly replied, “Just 27 … but none with our company. ”

Left to right: Pete, Helen, Fraser, Houdini (the guide)

Left to right: Pete, Helen, Fraser, Houdini (the guide)

We started at 4700m where the air was icy and thin. To cap it all, it was misty as hell.The first 8 miles were tarmacked road which would have been a dream to whiz down had my fingers and feet not gone numb with cold and started to throb. The scenery here was cloud filled valleys and snowy mountains and it was hard to believe what the guide was telling us: that in the space of 4 or 5 hours we would descend over 3500m into the humid rainforest.It was when the tarmac ran out that you could see why it was also called “death road”. A look over the edge revealed drops of over 300m into the forest below.

Large parts of the road aren’t even wide enough for 2 vehicles to pass, and as it gets steeper and bumpier, it gets narrower and the blind bends come faster. There isn’t enough money to erect barriers and all that stands between you and the edge are regular clusters of makeshift crosses reminding you that one skid on the slippery, stony track and one of them could be yours.

Red plastic flags mark the spots where recent accidents have happened and if you look from the other side of the valley you can see where vehicles have slid down through the greenery. For the most part I was too pre-occupied at steering my juddering bike around the potholes and stones to notice the drop too much which was probably a good thing. The rule is that downward traffic must stick to “the outside left edge” whilst those going up can hug the middle. Despite being told this I couldn’t help but veer over to the middle at every opportunity!

I was clenching my fingers so tightly around the brakes that after the first 2 hours I could hardly brake any more. Pete and his daughter Helen whizzed passed me a couple of time apparently oblivious to the drop, that was until Helen decided to scare the whatsit out of us by falling off her bike at top speed and slithering to a stop just inches from the edge!!!

As the scenery got greener and lusher the further down we got, the sun got hotter and the excitement built when we spotted the town of Coroico perched high in the hills – the Promised Land. Finally after 5 hours of fist clenching we reached the bottom. We crawled onto the bus for the last few miles up to Coroico. I have decided that hurtling down bumpy dirt tracks with blind bends and sheer drops next to me is what life is all about!!

You really should try it!!!


Muddy, but unbowed

Muddy, but unbowed

Weird but wonderful La Paz

October 1, 2009

la paz ariel

Bolivia is a weird place, a place where after a while the out of the ordinary is taken for granted.

Its capital, La Paz is situated at over 4000m so planes almost have to ascend to land here!

Whilst being architecturally quite dull, it has an impressive setting. Our first view of the city was from a vast slum called “El Alto” on top of the rim of a huge kind of canyon in which the city covers the floor of and climbs up the sides. As with all of Bolivia so far it oozes colourful street life and South American character. Many Bolivians live below the poverty line which can be hard to take in, and it has minimal western influence compared to Peru and Ecuador.

Shops are simple and all seem to sell the same few things – so most of La Paz seems like one giant street market. You can buy absolutely anything on the street, from a grotesque dried llama foetus (for warding off evil spirits) to knocked-off black-market designer clothes.

The local Witches Market

The local Witches Market

The city is alive with constant hustle and bustle as the chola’s (Indian women who moved from the rural areas to work market stalls) rush around everywhere carrying things between market stalls, and minibuses choke the streets. These take the place of cars in a normal city and each one has a boy hanging out the door shouting a babble of incomprehensible place names. Sometimes there are so many boys shouting at once the street just becomes a mass of place names.

At 11pm stallholders pack their entire stalls up into a man-sized sack and put them on their backs, another 14 hour day over.


Typical La Paz street

Typical La Paz street