Saturday, 31 October 2015

South America - the journey begins.

Leaving Brecon on a sunny morning we headed across southern England to arrive at Dave's quirky property in rural Sussex where final checks on bags and paperwork were made before we retired to the pub for Guinness and freshly caught mackerel.

A leisurely morning saw us through to 2pm when we were delivered up to nearby Gatwick for check in - my paltry 10 kilo bag helped offset Chris's that seemed unfeasibly heavy and we were soon passing through the usual security pavlova where Chris was relieved of a suspiciously large tub of cocoa butter - this also relieved Dave and I as lord knows what he had intended using it for.
A short two hour hop to Madrid then gave us time for a good steak washed down with red wine to dull our senses for the 12 hour overnight to Lima. As we descended over rural Spain the orange street lights of the small villages looked like cobwebs on a dark moor.

Lima is 5 hours behind the UK so it was dawn as we arrived at 6am to pass uninterrupted through Immigration and Customs to be met by Guillermo - a taxi driver contact of Dave's - which required a convivial coffee break before we launched in to the chaos of Lima's rush hour.
Having driven in similar frenzies in Morocco this was of no great concern but it was a relief to be in someone else's vehicle as we jostled with beat up buses, delivery vans and a sprinkling of elderly Beetles.

Hotel Castellana ( ) in Miraflores took care of our bags as our rooms were prepared and we took off to find breakfast near Parque Kennedy, home to a large number of feral cats. The Spanish signs, menus and conversation were reassuringly familiar even if still largely unintelligible but we were soon tucking in as outside the city came to life.

A quick visit to the local airline office saw tickets to Cajamarca booked and we also changed sterling and dollars in to nuevo soles with one of the many authorised street dealers who offer better rates than the hotels and banks - fully legit but it still felt slightly clandestine.

The Museo de Chocolate was full of temptation but we resisted and even Chris decided not to restock on his confiscated contraband but the samples were delicious.

Back at the hotel we were shown good, clean rooms and rested for a few hours before heading to a bar for beer and chips to watch the rugby play off and have - in my case - an early night.

Today we fly at 2pm giving the others time to watch the rugby final whilst I will head off and explore the area - Cajamarca will be our base until Wednesday as we need to check out and load the new vehicle - a Hyundai people carrier- that will be our transport for the next month.

As it is early days the piccies are yet to materialise but this link here will take you to a large selection of some of my favourites from the last decade since leaving the farm.

My daily location can be seen at this link as we head north through Peru to Colombia and then Ecuador with our return planned for early December - this year a substantial El Nino is forecast which may dictate our itinerary and indeed we have decided to factor in 2 nights at the end back in Lima to allow for any disruption to internal flights.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

MOT, LCB and the BBC

Following a very enjoyable week's farm sitting north of Brecon in unexpectedly good weather I welcomed Jan and Ian home after their successful jaunt to Iceland which looks worthy of a visit some time and is certainly on my list for the future.

I spent a sublime night at the sailing club a mile or two upstream of the old Severn Bridge with a superb moon and one of the highest tides of the year filling the pill with a mirror like calm. We walked up to the Oldbury Power Station to work off fish and chips enjoying the late evening views across to the Forest of Dean.

Sunday saw a circuit of the upper reaches of Cheddar Gorge starting at Charterhouse and following Velvet Bottom, the highlight of which on our return leg was spotting an adder which slowly took off in to the longer grass as the temperature was dropping.

On the Monday at the grand old age of 16 years and with 320,000 miles on the clock the trusty bus passed its 13th MOT for the sake of a £10 brake light switch which was good news.

However mindful of the possibility of a return to Morocco in the New Year and anxious
to avoid a repetition of this years trials (see January and February 2015 posts) I elected to have the steering rack and some coolant pipes replaced as the former had cropped up in a couple of advisories. I had planned to build on the success of the Way of the Roses bike ride a few weeks back and follow Sustrans routes up to London and back whilst the work was done but thanks to the rugby the garage could only do the work on the Thursday which did not leave me enough time.

Thus I dropped down to the Mendips for a couple of days instead to enjoy a ride around the lanes and tracks of the Somerset levels including a route through Glastonbury where the many devotees of the spiritual side of life provided an intriguing sideshow. A walk across to Crookes Peak was rewarded with crystal clear views across the Bristol Channel to South Wales and the Brecon Beacons after which I returned to Bristol for the precautionary work to be done.

This gave Bill and I the opportunity to cycle out to Bath and return via Bradford on Avon with its stunning tithe barn. Returning along the cycle track I picked up a slow puncture so the only solution was coffee and cake at the Avon Valley Steam Railway whilst glue dried.

 Anyway the van was all done on our return and I set off in due course for a weekend in Carmarthenshire staying at Church House Farm near Llanstephan. A coastal walk gave us wonderful views across to Laugharne and east to Gower which were enhanced by the low tide and shimmering sands. On the beach dozens of large stranded jellyfish awaited the return of the water, one in particular eerily resembling the ghostly sea spirit from Pirates of the Caribbean. Llanstephan Castle occupies an impressive spot above the village and on our return route the views changed again as the sun set.

 A good walk in Brechfa forest finished off a busy week and saw a change in the weather as a low swept in from the west so I decided to stay at the Rhandirmyn campsite and get some laundry done.

An email from Greg however persuaded me to make a random dash for rural Cambridgeshire to inspect a similar van with only a quarter of the mileage that looked to be in exceptional condition so I headed off in torrential rain for my first foray ever in to the Far East. A random red dashboard light whilst on the Midlands motorway network indicated alternator trouble but I carried on to Ramsey south of Peterborough where a rather shady dealer seemed disinclined to answer any questions and nearly had a fit when I donned my boiler suit, head torch and bright inspection light before disappearing under the chassis. Suffice to say all that glitters is not gold so I was soon on my way to a small Certificated Site where a temporary repair to the alternator trigger wire was undertaken and the battery recharged thanks to hook up.

Wednesday saw me heading to Sheffield with the journey pleasantly enlivened by said wire parting again on the busy A1 - another repair thanks to a Little Chef car park but the heavy rain seemed to enter my right ear and exit my left without interruption - somewhat worrying. Finally as I hit Sheffield the wire parted for a third time but this time was repaired in the sun outside Penny's house.
Thursday saw a good 30 mile plus bike ride around the surprisingly quiet and rural roads east of the A1 and south of the M62 covering Sykehouse, Yorkshire's longest village. The Indian summer made for perfect conditions and allowed for another two days of riding, one around Bradfield and another based north east of Mansfield in again surprisingly quiet rural lanes. A good walk with a friendly crowd in the Peak District on Sunday rounded off a cracking trip.

So after a few days up north I headed back to mid Wales for an intriguing assignment. My involvement with the Mountain Bothies Association stretches back 30 years but the organization is this year celebrating its 50th year and has received the Queen's Award for Voluntary Service which has attracted some welcome publicity. Thus the BBC approached the Publicity Officer and asked to film a small item for the breakfast news - mid Wales was selected as being convenient to both the reporter based in Bristol and the cameraman based in Salford and arrangements were made to meet in the Elan Valley to use the recently rebuilt Lluest Cwm Bach Bothy.
I wandered in early on Monday morning and to my surprise woke 3 slumbering medical students on their first ever bothy venture - as the building was in good order I returned to the van and considering the likelihood that the Beeb might not fully appreciate the principles of bothying headed to Rhayader to pick up some bits and bobs for supper.
Our Chairman Simon arrived mid afternoon followed by Phoebe who has written a book about bothying and eventually John the reporter and Tim the cameraman.
After a brief orientation for the newcomers we walked the mile or so across the bogs to the reservoir edge keeping a close eye on Tim as his camera and kit carried a cool £50,000 price tag.
The rest of the day was fascinating as the experts set up shots, conducted interviews, inspected rucksacks and traced the history of the occupation, abandonment and eventual rebuilding of this magical place. The weather again stepped up to the mark and Tim set up a tripod mounted Go Pro to capture the stars before we retreated indoors to a crackling fire, jacket spuds, corn on the cob and garlic bread as yes they had no bananas.

After more filming of the interior, night sky and Phoebe's backpacking gear I retired to the relative comforts of the van enjoying the stars and silence as I tramped across the bog.
Back in the bothy bright and early next morning I caught the hard core team stirring gently and our work was concluded with final sequences and interviews before we trudged out with Craig Goch looking idyllic as the sun rose from behind the hill. We said our goodbyes and I headed down to Brecon delighted to find the red light on again but an hour of spannering at Jan's saw I hope a more permanent fix and the power steering plus alternator belts tightened.

Today I nipped up Pen y Fan in the Brecon Beacons on an absolute cracker of a day, joining a young soldier not long back from Afghanistan for the start and finishing late in the afternoon with meeting a couple of Ozzies from Melbourne who were enjoying the unusually fine conditions - tea and biscuits were devoured as we exchanged stories before they head off to the Lake District for the rest of their stay.

Anyway I am off to waddle round the badminton courts before a boys weekend at Rhandirmyn where there is no phone signal to interrupt a couple of days of activity and merriment - the South America trip is fast approaching so malaria tablets and travel insurance are in place  - BE WARNED it gets very expensive once you've had an MI so look after your health to protect your wealth.......

Piccies at this link and locations at this one.

Hope to post again before departure.