Hello world!

Life is exciting! I started this blog having just completed the Camino de Santiago in July 2016, a walk of the soul.   It was incredibly difficult leaving behind the people and way of the Camino yet that’s exactly what I did, launching head first into Brazil, the starting point of my round the world adventure.

The content of this blog is the humble memories, insights and sometimes silly events that I experienced during my year out……Come with me as I travel both far and near to Scotland my home.

Hope you enjoy my ramblings.

Pennine Way

20170725_110804As I made my way on a rickety regional train from Sheffield to the little town of Edale I simmered with a little bit of pre-walk excitement. The Pennine Way stretches like a vast snake northwards 268 miles finishing in the little town of Kirk Yetholm in Scotland. I got hold of the official guide and knew instinctively that I wanted to get onto the trail and take a gulp of what was on offer.
I set off to walk the start of the way and simply see how the land unfolded in what is a mixture of farmland and wild open moor, snuggly lodged between Sheffield and the big smoke that is Manchester; both industrial heartlands framing what I soon learnt was wonderful lush countryside with a somewhat moody appeal and dramatic geology.20170725_110830I wanted to camp in the haunting moorlands and they didn’t disappoint. I left with an open mind and with little need to define how far I’d walk, only that I’d be free to come or go and would surely experience the start of this iconic long distance walk.20170725_115305

20170725_111806The walk starts at a pub called the Old Nags Head and wanders through pasture on flat paved stones in what is a very civilised start.
20170725_122342

jacobsladderSoon you meet Jacobs Ladder and as the name suggests you are heading up! I love these kind of paved accents they remind me always of the foothills of Nepal, though invariably Jacobs Ladder comes to a much shorter end at a large rock formation called Edale Rocks, all balanced upon each other no doubt from some cataclysmic erruption in history.460096Day trippers in bright outdoor gear languished around in the shelter of these vast rocks nibbling happily like grazing sheep on their sandwiches. I stopped briefly to catch my breath from the ascent and to look around at the many giant rocks perched in awkward juxtapositions, reminiscent of Henry Moore’s sculptures. I realised quickly that there are many trails all around this area worthy of time and exploration and I gathered I’d be back.20170725_142423

20170725_142614Walking on, the trail opens up with a dramatic ridge towards Kinder Downfall with a sheer drop and huge flattened rocks forming the chasim channeling the water as it makes a leap for freedom. The rocky trail crosses the river and wynds round the ridge over large boulders giving way to large tuffs of bracken and heather growing in clambering mounds of peat not dissimilar to giant mushrooms. I met a likable fellow who had completed all of the munros and like a ferral goat had run up to this point making me look like I was carrying a sofa on my back. We chatted warmly before I headed off and found the hills desolate and quiet, free of walkers who had by now all headed back to Edale for a well deserved pint.20170725_123729

20170725_160614All was well with the world except that as the hills emptied and I was left sitting alone high above the flat planes of featherbed moss, pangs of organic matter started to churn internally and I was certainly glad to have the bogs to myself I can tell you! If the landscape wasn’t dramatic enough the next 1hour was with two stops of explosive material and hot sweats and cramps that tried very hard to distract me from my sun dappled surroundings.20170725_161809

20170725_160606I plodded on and found one of the few flat and dry patches between the bogs heading towards the ominously named Bleaklow Head. I set up camp near to Hern Clough which supplied my evenings water, much needed from the heat of the day and my developing illness.20170725_181926If we think that Scotland have ferocious midge let it be known now that the swarm I bolted from were clearly some kind of secret government bio weapon. It was a case of get water, get it boiling and bolt for the safety of the tent. I could here them buzzing around outside the tent making kamakazi dives for the outer sheet, so when the next pang came I was all for staying in the tent….thankfully these movements were fast and a bio weapon in their own right so I survived with only a few bites to the supple nether region. I settled down for the night, warm and cozy but admittedly a bit drained from a lovely walk and not so lovely eruptions.20170726_083304The next day started with wind both inside the tent and outside, promising to bring rain. Sure enough it came first as a smattering and then a drizzle followed by 3hours of driving pouring rain. I settled into the waterproofs and knuckled down into it.
Heading out over the high moor lands with swirling mist and fog seemed a little heroic or just plain daft; I couldn’t quite place which it was as I headed over Bleaklow Head, but it made navigating the featurless moors challenging, especially given that at one point the path became a quagmire of liquid mud and although my guide mentioned a clear paved path I imagine this was future tense cause it wasn’t there! I detoured finding a better path and eventually after passing a large cairn and ruin, dropped down to Torside reservoir via a precarious narrow path with a sheer drop hugging Torside Clough. The rain lashed on replenishing the waters below, having totally overwhelmed the water repellency of my kit.20170726_105849-1

20170726_110100I arrived at Crowden Camping and Caravan park to meet Carol, an amazingly friendly manager who was quick to spot a drooket walker. I was soon washed and dry again and totally tempted by the lovely yet basic wooden pods on offer here, so the rest of my day and night was thankfully cozy and dry. The rain battered through the night so although most of my sickness passed by morning, the thought of the next section with nothing short of 14 fords to cross and yet more forecast rain I decided to leave the Pennine Way for pastures drier.Crowden-Camping-and-Caravanning-Club-PodsOne other walker who staggered into camp had been up to his waist crossing the various fords on the next section and told the dramatic tail of how he lost his tent to the river and nearly his whole bag! Exhilerating as it sounds I took this to be an omen and headed to Manchester vowing to return.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised by what the Pennine Way has to offer and I’m pleased to say I’ll no doubt be back to take in some more of its treats. For now the next plan is to weather hop nearer to Scotand.20170726_111208

Santiago de Compostela

20170720_190714

20170720_164008Walking into Santiago I felt my heart lighten. It’s been a hard journey at times both emotionally and physically but here we are safe and sound after 470km.20170720_115244

20170720_170630 There was something about being here again that comforted me, welcoming me back with a smile. I of course felt a momentary swell of pride for us all as we inevitably stumbled into Cathedral square. Our steps slowed and we glanced upwards at the twin bell towers of the Cathedral. It’s currently clad in scaffolding yet there’s still a majestic beauty in it’s towering, solid presence, especially given how distant Santiago has felt at times.20170720_171426 I recalled my last Camino in 2015, gathering myself together I realised we’d made it and I reflected on how different this Camino had been.20170720_170911I think bodily it was a sudden shock, our legs confused by this sudden static state. Pilgrims who had been with us on our journey congratulated us, smiled knowingly or gave an acknowledging nod, yet Davie seemed quite subdued with his achievement. There’s something delightful to be said for stopping but it also dissolved our clear purpose to simply move forward and instead we had no place else to be. It’s not always as easy to put the cross down I guess. I think personally I felt thankful that we were safe and without injury but I honestly can’t say I felt jubilant. The act of walking and the routine of each simple day comes without the turbulence or stress that normal life offers. In someway arriving into Santiago was full of mesmerising options that we hadn’t faced since Leon. With the quiet of the way now gone, replaced by a frenetic buzz of cafes, excited tourists and a stream of pilgrims all celebrating and flooding the streets; I felt a new understanding of how disorientating entering a hive must be.20170720_204242We now have a solem duty to eat cheese, break bread and drink wine as the sun heads west flooding the square with warm light. It will no doubt take us a few days to temper our pace and become tourists again, enjoying the lazy pleasures that Santiago has to offer.

 

Where there’s a Will there’s a Way….

20170716_131101Small steps eventually get you there. I’m sure both big Davie and Colette have like me, felt tired, doubtful or just a little crazy for trying to walk so far but here we are just one day away from reaching the wonderful magnet that is Santiago de Compostela.20170719_172236 Pilgrims are gravitationally pulled towards the cities ornate cathedral regardless of how fast they move. For some the journey has been quick, intoxicating and full of social evocation while for others each step has resonated pain and incredible endurance. Each story and each Camino is personal and different. This Camino has had its fair share of challenges for all of team Scotland but with perseverance I think we will prevail along with the hundreds of other new pilgrims who joined us in Sarria. Collectively there is easily 500 of us making for the city tomorrow.20170718_102905A barrage of fresh, lumminous, lycra clad newbies swarmed the paths as we left Sarria. The final 112 km from Sarria awards a certificate, and so many people start here to get a feel for the walk.20170718_155713 For the dusty and worn pilgrims however who have knuckled down in blistering heat through Spain’s arrid meseta and clambered up and down various mountain heights, the fresh and vigorous stride of new legs seems a little insulting and nieve. The animated and excited voices buzzing with uplifting energy is all at once startling and in some way a breach of the peace but also somewhat like a tidal wave carrying old driftwood in towards shore.20170716_15142520170718_113606 For all that we have been swamped I certainly felt today that a strength and speed had been injected into my legs as I took off with pace into the driving Galician rain. It is indeed invigorating approaching our goal. I think I will be incredibly humbled, content and relieved when Davie strides into Santiago. It’s a journey and accolade well deserved by the big man and certainly not easy. It’s been a privaledge supporting this Camino, if throught with nervous energy at times.20170716_151343Davie has threatened to become a Camino snob on more than a few occassions this week as he’s eyed newbies carrying nothing more than a purse and some water, striding along with a jolly spring in their step, clearly free of any pain. He sung day tripper by the Beatles in tones not dissimilar to a deaf mute forgetting that quite a few people know this song and speak English. He’s taken to pointing his stick to identify newbies while chortling a little…like a wise old sage. Today he felt it necessary to tell all and sundry about Scottish weather and a “wee bit o rain il no harm you”.20170716_113550Colette, ever motivated by food on her jouney has been driven along by the promise of Octopus at every opportunity, but will also make do with a heartburn inducing empanada or a bluebottle encrusted tortilla, when desperate. I actually don’t know how we’ve survived on some of the fly infested pickings on offer.20170718_122252

20170718_122515 Popping into some of the little cafes on the way literally means being bowled over by a riot of flies; one wonders how the uncovered tortilla doesn’t just get air lifted off into the heavens by these restless creatures. Colette was also spotted foraging feverishly at the foot of an apple tree, fighting off a few maggots to get at a ripe apple, such was her driving hunger at the time.20170720_082623It’s been an interesting few days of fairly easy walking but the accumulative impact of the last 2 and a half weeks has taken its toll with the 3 intrepid pilgrims hungry now for Santiago. As we head out for yet more pulpo I hope all 6 legs make it with ease into the fabled city tomorrow.

 

 

Folk n Hell!

IMG_20170714_113007IMG_20170714_124514I consider myself calm and not terribly quick to temper but over the last two days irritated moods and tempers have flared up like violent anathalactic shock. I’m not sure at what point the world health organisation declares serious sleep deprivation but all of us have suffered at the hands of rampant noise offenders, gaining an ever growing mound of grit in our eyes that could support a small beach eco system; in fact I think some drift wood got washed up in my left eye yesterday.IMG_20170714_075839 Between chronic bed squeaking and rasping hogg like snoring it’s been hard to rest without disturbance. The final straw for Davie came when a gaggle of young-buck Italians started a full blown and empassioned conversation with all the high pitched intonation and animation you might expect during session of the Italian parliament…. All taking place dangerously close to Davies exhausted body.20170715_190557 I too felt my blood boil at the complete lack of consideration and was just about to spring out of my bed and fly at the excited hoard when Davie like a raging bull, raced at them, skidding to a halt screaming “fu*king hell, calm the fu*k doon” in a tone that clearly said just dinnae. Dinnae even go there! A silence fell heavy upon the albergue and the remaining pilgrims yet to wash their teeth gingerly walked to the bathroom over Davies newly laid egg shells as if their life depended on not making a sound. Talk about cats on a hot tin roof! The problem for me at this point was a bout of hysterical laughter resulting in yet more bed squeaking and muffled giggling. It just got silly with sleep evading us like a startled deer leaping energetically at the slightest sound. 20170713_153209 The next day was hard work from Villa Franca to a hill top village called La Faba. There was a lot of up and rough stones and bolders to negotiate, so it was intense scrambling for team Scotland as we’re now known.IMG_20170714_102833

IMG_20170714_124532The temperatures have been in the high 30s which has sapped energy considerably but the scenery has been stunning with majestic clouds swirling around the rolling green hills of Galicia. The rural towns, with their aromatic whiff of fresh cow manure interspersed with fresh morning dew and fragrant flowers have made a tough section well worth the effort.IMG_20170714_081517

20170714_182448We’ve been chatting with an amicable freelance journalist aptly called James who’s been incredibly kind, inquisitive and has even fulfilled the noble role of ‘Simon of Syrene’, carrying Davies pack while he and I traversed some really steep and rubbly sections today.  The spirit of the Camino is never far away with donativo oasis’ quenching pilgrim thirst out of the blue and acts of kindness never too far either. The best little places are pop up in nature with a hippy tie dye aesthetic, often harbouring new age spiritual types who like to hug you for just a little longer than is humanly comfortable. I speak from experience. 20170715_130214IMG_20170714_091925With this point in mind I wonder what brings certain people to the camino. A particularly anal pilgrim from east Germany (I mention this because she was ex stazi police) was stummbled upon in the lovely La Faba albergue. An unlikely place for a full blown interrogation you might think. You can guess what’s coming. Yes, she did scream, bawl and bark orders while wearing a kind of scout like shirt and shorts. The point at which I lost my shit was right around the time her verbal rant went into 3rd gear, with rapid incoherent German laced with mild spittal and some fateful finger wagging. I admit it, I cracked and flew back at her with a full barrage of damming abuse; throwing my bag to the floor and making certain offensive body movements to get my point across that if one more word was uttered from her tight, thin little lips she’d be hauled out of the hostal by her cropped hair and dumped over a sheer drop. I was raging but luckily the German hostal manager witnessed the whole thing and took her aside. You wouldn’t believe that this was all because someone else had wrongly put their stuff on Davie’s lower bunk bed, clearly by mistake as his bag was next to his bunk. Her outrage came as I shifted this stuff to a free lower bunk a few meters away. It had been a hot day and I guess I just had no tolerance for that particular blend of authoritarian, retentive crap. What was nice, in a balancing way, was that other pilgrims rallied round us, sharing meals and wine and chatting with ease until bedtime, softening what was quite a volatile situation. Thank God for the good folk of the camino, long may they walk. Buen Camino.20170712_095831

Cruz de Ferro

20170711_130018Today was quite possibly the hardest day yet, but also one of the most glorious places to walk with early morning sun taming the cool mountain wind, gently caressing the vast alpine vistas before us.20170711_113131

20170711_072010 A casual 26.5km with 20 km of that on rough scree and uneven land, tumbling precariously down hill. What goes up must come down I guess but that’s no easy task for a big man with balance, movement and sight impairment!20170711_111904Davie did a great job today and was fearless in the face of steep drops, narrow, uneven paths and rocky terrain. We’ve developed a kind of sign language to indicate difficult sections of path when I walk in front and during the steep down I act like a counter balance holding his waste straps and ruck sack from behind to prevent him stumbling forward. All in all it’s been a heart in mouth moment for most of the day and mentally strenuous staying completely focussed. We walked for about 12hrs including stops, so it’s no surprise we’re all bed hugging the days strains away now.20170711_095706We passed the emotive Cruz de Ferro, a point for many pilgrims to feel the pain they carry internally and physically. Pilgrims often walk with something difficult in their heart’s and it is at this cross that many say a prayer and think of what is true for them. Many leave a stone on the ever growing mound to symbolise the uphill struggles both of life and the way; rewarded by what seems to be an intense, validating moment with what you carry inside. Some people take a selfie and move on, others like Davie leave a photo of a loved one and in that act feel both the emotion they have carried combined with the physical effort being undertaken often in honour of those we love.20170711_103146 As Davie surged up to the base of the cross he did so with certain determination that quickly melted into weighted grief as he realised he was saying goodbye to both his mum and wee Rosa. Standing there with two small photos in his hands sparked the loss deep within him as he prepared to leave them with the cross and God. I hope he knows that the strength that brought him up here is the same strength that will allow him to live through his grief.20170711_115218Our days are simple on the Camino, and often seasoned with fun as you’ll know from my other blog entries, but today was triumphant and special in our combined effort to be here together. Well done Davie and happy birthday from big Shaz and wee Colly Molly x

What a Rabanal

20170710_181718Week 2 in the big Camino house. Big Davie and Colette are struggling to deal with the mornings (she said in a jordy accent). What takes me 15mins to get ready seems to take this pair a cool hour!20170710_103704Admittedly I’m a tad more organised but still our morning reaction time should be improving by now! I’ve trained both Colette and Davie to pack the night before, leaving out only what they plan to wear and some toiletries. With this in place I thought I’d have a slick, well oiled team trained in stealth morning maneuvers. Unfortunately when I asked Davie this morning if he’d take his mattress as his lawful wedded wife, he replied “I do” and curled into a cosy embrace with it. Colette seems to cling to the bed like a defiant cat with it’s claws firmly embeded….it’s not easy dealing with self-confessed bedaholics at 5.30 am.20170710_070710To add injury to insult, Davie who has an inherent ability to make noise with little effort….turned having rustled with his bag for at least 10 minutes at 5.40am to a few portugues women daring to whisper and sharply in a booming voice told them unceremoniously to, and I quote “shut it you!” In a rasping Scottish accent.  Colette swiftly berrated this injustice and so the whole dorm was alive with music before long. At times like this I glance to the heavens wearily looking for some sympathy.20170710_191716So we arrived at Rabanal in good time today and have lounged around and generally treated ourselves with a siesta and a three course meal and of course our bodyweight in Cerveza Lemon. We ascend further into the mountains tomorrow where a welcome breeze and a pleasant 10 degrees will help us onwards. The next stretch will challenge the legs a bit more but hopefully with luck, faith or plain grit we’ll make it over and back down a grueling 20km without incident either of the verbal or physical kind… The big question is, will the two sleepy heads get up to face the climb before lunch? Suggestions welcome!

Putrid Pilgrims

20170708_224653Our journey over the last two days has been a variety of long dry stretches of path, motorway hugging and undulating farmland between Leon and Astorga.20170708_073904-1

20170708_073719Leaving Leon with its many cobbled alleyways and side streets meant that the familiar hunt for the famous Camino yellow direction arrows was like looking for a needle in a haystack. We picked our way out of Leon’s sprawling suburban outskirts, strangling a few statues on route and finally crossed a few motorways leading us through small towns and hamlets as oppose to the alternative route that follows the edge of the motorway heading west. 20170708_110218 On our way we met a wonderful fellow called Manuel, running a little pilgrim station in Oncina. He’s built little iglu shelters with seating and a toilet and provides donation based drinks and snacks. The people of the Camino are truly lovely even if Colette did manage to misplace or have stolen her purse shortly after leaving this point. On the bright side at least her backpack’s a bit lighter! Incidently she got the purse back minus the cash; she is understandably throught about the loss but has since developed a distracting crush for Spanish policemen which we may yet need to call upon again as my treasured and prized tartan bed shorts have also fallen victim to nimble fingers. I have a suspect and can trace the culprit back to the Benedictine monastario in Leon where I paid for them to be washed and never saw there comforting pattern work again. It’s okay though cause out there there’s a nun wearing tartan shorts which kinda tickles me!20170708_20335320170709_152054Moving on, the little town of Viller de Mazaref was a welcome stop to rest up before our 31.5 km stretch today into Astorga. Davie and myself have been at the hat drenching all day, only he’s quite a bit more dramatic about it then I am.

We’ve passed some wonderful sights today and although the walk was our longest yet we’ve arrived in Astorga with just enough strength to slurp back an obligatory cerveza lemon!20170709_120746

20170709_155356The final 90 degree hill leading up to the hostal should be reported to the European court of human rights, given the sheer brutality of it in our weakened and sizzled conditions. If ever there was a stench to be harnessed as a bio weapon I reckon our combined body odour today nailed the recipe.160311_FT_cyberwar-nuclear-war.jpg.CROP.promo-xlarge2 I’m honestly gonna have to chop my own nose off if I smell one more foot, sock or rancid arm pit stench….As a result of this horrendous condition I took cleaning too far when after the final wash, rinse and spin of the albergue washing machine I had to scoop armfuls of bubbled soap suds from the drum…mmm I soapose things are at least clean now. Ocd meltdown in progress!20170709_13221020170709_154420

Peligro Pilgrims

20170705_10333420170707_175254We have arrived in Leon, a wonderful old town with a cathedral to savour. The journey today was less than aesthetically wonderful yet thankfully short. We predominantly followed the main artery road into the city; the terrain was as you might imagine uneventful and sadly industrial but here we are safe and sound. As I walked I chatted to a number of fellow pilgrims and it was then that I realised that indeed this pilgrim life is ‘muy peligroso’ or very dangerous to me or you. I hear you chuckle and scoff mildly at this statement which is why I feel I owe it to all future pilgrims to warn you of the uncertain peril we face.20170707_08210520170707_180947Elvis from beyond the grave and wet weather are all deemed to be dangerous in Espania. Hopefully I now have you sitting on the edge of your seat with the police, fire and ambulance on speed dial.

Can I first explain that a humble pilgrim bed can be a dangerous place on two counts. First, if you’re on the top bunk a slat or two can be easily dislodged by any vigorously wriggling pilgrim (note to colette here) not to mention a distinct shortage of actual ladders to ascend or descend….the result, propelling the tired sleeping body above tumbling down and crushing the unsuspecting pilgrim below. It’s a devastating end! In Davies case, thankfully he was on the bottom bunk when his bed slats let out an almighty crack after he catapulted himself backwards with what I can only describe as great force. The resulting slumped and inverted mattress immediately fell through the newly formed cavity and sent Davie into a vertically folded position with his legs and arms pinned together in the air much like a bronze cast synchronised swimmer cacooned in a mattress, all firmly held in place. He was lucky not to be impaled on the broken slats and of course the resulting hyperventilating laughter was indeed a threat in itself that we all narrowly escaped.

Beehives_in_Mankato,_Minnesota

20170707_162441Then there’s the swarm of rampant killer bees along the way from Hermanillos de la Calzada to Mansilla de las Mulas. On a desolate section of the way, with little shelter or hope of any place to run the bees swarmed around our heads while we tried to walk quickly without making too much commotion. Unfortunately for a good few other pilgrims the bees attacked and stung them with vicious intent. Bee warned! The fellow above actually rang the environmental police to have these irritated honey makers moved, based on the attack he narrowly bolted from with 3 stings. It was kind of him in many ways as he was walking ahead and realised how threatening this could be to us. The Camino is full of this kind of sentimental caring. Long bee it continue!20170707_175509I suppose I should mention Davie the sword weilding crusader who has become a deadly danger in his own right after his twin set of deadly spears, aka walking sticks made their mark on an unsuspecting Italian victim earlier today; she had her stomach impailled mildly on our way into Leon. She did at least have the good sense to back off with a smile and a sharp intake of breath!

My last pilgrim threat involves a few salivating, vicious hounds who chased a pilgrim today as she walked towards the city. She fought them off with her stick but it seems that at every turn there’s a ‘tail’ of peril! The list of dangers are vast.20170707_163245 It is clearly very possible to become incoherent from exposure to both cold and heat but also to fall victim to ‘pilgrimititis’. This is when you meet persuasive thirsty pilgrims and opt to drink multiple bottles of 5euro wine like water…..funny how the threat of a broken bunk goes right out the window after that eh😆. 20170706_072428Seriously though….on the way pilgrims do die. There are many crosses to mark this. Peace be with them all and may God please envelop us in a protective blanket so that we might take each step safely. We, like many others made a small cross on our way into Leon to mark our need to be loved and protected; may God hear what we pray for and carry us on the way. 20170707_110823

 

Camino Crankie

20170706_073246

20170706_072242When pilgrims arrive at an albergue they present their passport and their Camino credential papers. They pay their way then typically make haste for a shower followed by eating a 3 course pilgrim meal (usually about 12 Euro). They engage in typical pilgrim activities such as washing sweated clothes followed by a short siesta and later a few well placed drinks. All typical here on the way.20170705_080446

20170705_101815Then there’s making sure everything is packed for a very early start the next day. Many pilgrims leave around 5 or 6 am to avoid the scorching Spanish sun. There is an unsaid rule about doing this quietly and succinctly, yet some pilgrims (davie and to some extent Colette too) depart like a herd of pounding elephants, stampeading towards Santiago. This lot could kick start the Glastonbury festival to the rocking tunes of rustling bags, clattering walking sticks and a very rythmic zipping ensemble.  Off they roar like hells angels only without the motorbikes! But really what’s actually with the constant noise throughout the night and the steady stream of bag rustling from 4.30am onwards? I’ve become a firm member of the noise pollution police. A usually peaceful, law abiding pilgrim can in one blink turn savage and I’m that pilgrim. If the snoring continues I’ll rip the offenders nose off with my bare hands! Not quite sure how that’ll go down in the confession box however….20170705_072048

20170706_171301I’ve come to the conclusion that pilgrims should be put through a rigorous interview process upon arrival at their albergue, perhaps even given a lie detector test regarding their ability for stealth, quiet and organisation. If I was in charge I’d strap the pilgrims down and ask 5 easy to answer questions.

1.Do you fart like a machine gun?

2.Do you rustle carrier bags as a hobby around 4am in the morning?

3. Zips are useful but be honest are you addicted to opening and shutting zips repeatedly. You can admit here and now if you’re on the spectrum.

4. Snoring is not permitted. Do you snore, snort or wheez like a couple of courting pigs?

5. Wriggling, moving, coughing, breathing, mummbling and generally contaminating albergue tranquility will not be tolerated! Do you understand?…..to which Davie giggles and hiccups.20170705_133426Any pilgrim meeting the forbidden criteria should be placed altogether and gagged! Last night Davie snored like Godzilla ravaging the earth while Colette rolled, rattled and then somehow managed to launch an open toiletries bag at me during the night, inflicting an incision in my leg from a stray speeding tube of E45. A few flipflops landed around my head and I seriously considered snuffing the life out of my rather brutal and animated companions (briefly) Let’s hope tonight fair’s better!20170705_074630

20170705_105412Aside from me creeping ever closer to commitng an actual crime, Spain has been visually assaulted as we’ve made our way through barren, open farmland at the mercy of a rather brutal rocky Roman road. Roughly 40km later the expletives are unmentionable. Onwards to the marvel that is Leon cathedral tomorrow with or without sleep!20170706_072428

 

 

Diablo Blanco

20170704_082841A whirl wind of toxic air circulated amongst a seething array of stenching pilgrim bodies last night as the heat of the day took up residence in the close quarters of our municipal albergue. The proximity of the beds combined with the stiffling heat was quite enough to extinguish any hope I had of finding sleep. Others however slept like the living dead, omitting rattling snores vibrating and endangering the very fabric of the building itself. One man started a rasping 5am coughing fit that had me fantasizing about placing him permanantly in a wooden coffin all to himself. In my mind I was hammering the nails in as he clawed frantically from within.20170704_223746We left early and stumbled quickly past a supermercado called David. Thankfully they didn’t appear to do two for the price of one; our Davie is of course quite unique in his rather candid verbal cheek, which he lobbed fearlessly at Colette this morning as we made our way out of town. Little does he know she’s a skilled sling shot (in her mind) and each time she glares at him in combat of one of his fairly random comments she takes aim at his machine gun gub firing a few stones down his throat with a satisfying popping sound, silencing any further verbal assault. It’s fun to watch….20170704_085906As we plodded along a flat and completely featureless straight road we imagined the demonic workforce behind such an open expanse of blistering gravel.20170704_085947 Trees were scarce today and I found myself clinging to pockets of shade like my life depended on it. Being so white does tend to startle the spanish and indeed if Colette had been told once more about her ever growing red arms I reckon her eyes might have exploded with devilsh rage. She took to explaining in a sharp, flippant manner that she was indeed a white devil from scotland (in spanish) and that it’s quite normal for little devils to become rocco especially when irritated…..The way was certainly mentally challenging and we could all easily have been mumbling incoherently about white Scottish devils to all and sundry simply through heat stroke. I’m pretty sure I took up business momentarily as a mobile salt factory when I realised my lips were nothing more than two encrusted pinnicals of dried salt and sweat.20170704_134828By the end of our boiling 26km we were all ready to crawl into a nestle freezer van and accept the rather permanent and static results.20170704_133100 Davie staggered part delerious into the albergue in Terradillos de los Templarios a very alarming and glowing shade of red; thankfully still clinging to life by an exhausted thread! He’s self confessed to being totally knackered! I best not divulge just yet that tomorrow holds an alluring 27km! Oh the devil within…..
I have a sneaking feeling los Diablos blancos may yet become permanently rocco if the heat and hellish conditions continue tomorrow. Fingers, toes, burnt arms and legs crossed for snow!20170704_090317

Carrion walking

20170703_070425Aside from a few toxic bottom gurglings (thanks to our first pilgrim meal last night) and Big Davie’s momentous snoring it was a quiet night all and all. Okay the room may have felt like an 8 on the Richter scale but it was at least clean, soothing my need for some assemblage of hygiene. The process of getting my fellow pilgrims up however was slightly more taxing. Colette aka ‘Bambles’ engaged in a meditative slow motion dance of artistic mime interspersed with ferret like frantic antics in a bid to get out before 7am. The trio left with Davie doing an odd ‘pilgrim prance’ that I fear can not be fully described by my inadequate rantings. Let’s just say he was in high spirits as he started to mumble the various rosarys.20170703_075347We set off from Fromista; the early morning sun radiating off the warm sandstone of San Pedro facade as a parting gift. The way is very flat here, yet tirelessly direct with strong scorching sun soon baking the surrounding land, making the way far more weary than the elevation would suggest. Davie like any good pilgrim started his morning walk in silent prayer with only the playful and excited song of sparrows and the crunch of stone audible under foot. It’s immediately relaxing; even the sight of such a vast number of kilometres to Santiago couldn’t remove the eagerness growing within us all for the day ahead. 20170703_121055With the sun creeping ever higher in the sky we were very relieved to pop into a few churches onroute, basking in their cooling shade. The decorative carvings and vaulted interiors are quite beautiful and are certainly as inviting and cooling if not as easy to swollow as any cold beer. Beer clearly coming to mind on quite a few occassions as my body begins to get to grips with this new oven like environment.20170703_115834To say that Davie and me are mild extroverts might be underestimating both his panache for screaming colloquial and vernacular Scots at anything that moves; often heard saying “ya awright hen, howz it goan wee lassie” and my tendency to interrogate any glimmer of conversation.  Colette who has a considerably milder manner may yet take to wielding a sling shot!20170703_120458

20170703_120434We met John, a Scot who’s a self confessed addict, not to our national tipple whiskey, but to the Camino and a lovely girl from the Czech republic called Martina; and yes she was named after the rather famous tennis player which is just as well given you have to have balls to hang out with us three all day!20170703_130104We’ve arrived at Carrion de los Condes after 20 very warm kilometres and are staying with a commune of Catholic Sisters who seem relatively amused by the gang of cooked ‘lobster red’ Scots that stumbled into their lovely little Albergue. What a Carrion indeed!

Camino embrace brace brace

largeTo think I started this humble blog not long after completing the Camino de Santiago for the first time back in 2015,
and here I am back on it, both the blog and the Camino; one of Europe’s iconic long distance walks. You can never have too much Camino if you ask me.2015-07-16 07.49.01I’m travelling with ‘Big Davie’ and Colette aka ‘Bambles’, both characters in their own right so I’m sure our way will be peppered with fable and folie especially if our journey so far is any indication of the fun to come.

Davie fell badly last time round and sadly had to hang up his walking boots at a little town called Fromista; today we travel via plane and train to get there for an early morning start tomorrow. Already I’ve found our way full of caper with Davie karate chopping his way through Spain.20170702_103252-1Towering above a sea of small scurrying Spaniards big Davie teetered on the spot looking typically irritated by the warm hussel and bussel of Madrid airport. He has an unusual panache for spontaneously imitating Steven Segal fight moves, for no other reason than to alert all around him of his swift and deft combat abilities and also I suspect to maintain good blood circulation. Jogging on the spot and punching the air around him did little to make our arrival in Spain inconspicuous.20170702_153128Watching the scene unfold I had to stiffle my laughter as Colette’s slight frame was once again crumpled in yet another friendly embrace.  It was only a few short hours ago she witnessed the sad loss of both parents to one of Davie’s deadly enveloping hugs at Edinburgh airport as they bid us farewell. Their departure was at least swift. Both parents grappled momentarily for air before dissappearing completely with an abrupt inspirited swoosh of air followed suddenly with a final hollow pop. Sucked mercilessly into the vast vacume of Davie’s armpits. Hugs are one of Davie’s speciality moves to be monitored and avoided where possible. I fear that if the 40 degree heat doesn’t kill us the menacing threat of hugs might.20170702_125203We’ve made sticky haste to the Madrid train station chamartin and thankfully should make it without incident to the sleepy town of Fromista by about 6pm. Wish us luck as we venture along the way of Saint James. Buen Camino!

The Saint Cuthbert’s Way

20170408_070945Walking is a real joy in this lovely little country of ours, especially when blessed with good weather and fine company.20170405_095112 The Saint Cuthbert’s Way is a 60 mile/100km walk between Melrose in Scotland and Holy Island (Lindisfarne) in England.  It’s a rolling distance walk that takes in open pastures, lofty hilltops and the quaint border towns of both England and Scotland.20170404_09361820170404_104457By its very name the walk honours Saint Cuthbert and offers a glimpse at the landscape he would have travelled during his ministry. There’s something poignant and alluring about walking away busy thoughts, allowing them to dissipate into the free and vast space of rural Scotland. These kind of walks seems to enrich a spiritual force in us regardless of personal belief, not to mention knackering you physically, encouraging a good nights sleep.20170406_124155Prior to the walk I’d been feverishly looking forward to a trail that takes days rather than hours, simply because for me, walking and being on the hills is a rhythmic form of meditation and peace (in between my hyperventilating and general sweated panting you understand). By the time the Easter school holidays arrived The Saint Cuthbert’s Way called out to me, screaming and howling like a rabid wolf in fact.  How could I deny such a rampant want and need within myself?Rabid_WolfSo out with the tent and of course a good hearty and yes heavy pack to keep even the most aloof mind grounded. My trusted, (if sometimes chaotic) walking companion Colette, heaved her blue pack up upon her shoulders, gingerly swaying on the spot like a vintage ‘weeble wobble’ for anyone who remembers those little bobbling toys.weebles-wobble

A walk like this is certainly different with your house on your back but truly rewarding and in the true spirit of freedom.20170406_225048The first section of the walk takes you past the red sandstone ruin of Melrose Abby, heading south out-of-town up a rather testing flight of stairs onto the Eildon hills. We found the path here much like a bubbling, volcanic mud pool, ready to submerge any foolhardy walkers with aspirations of getting over the saddle clean and mud free. It was one step up for ever two sliding back, so not a breeze by any means. With quite a lot of respiratory panting and mud splattered clothing we arrived at the Dryburgh bar ironically named, in St Boswells.20170402_12101920170402_125026The pub was full of pale, leathery skinned men who seemed a little displaced by the vision of two muddied women, alive with eager thirst in their eyes. A quiet hush swept across the dark recesses of the bar as we entered, interrupted only by the gruff yet jolly voice of a local man, glued structurally to the bar who asked where on earth we were heading ? Quickly and with a candid quality he declaring in response to my honest answer ‘Holy Island’ with “yer fucking mad!” I chuckled and thanked him for his wise and correct assessment of the situation while calmly ordering a few pints of liquid nectar to restore us both for the final stroll down to our first wild camping spot across the bridge at Dryburgh Abby.20170402_17460520170402_181442Day two took us through lively spring woodland, a small rural hamlet and lush green rolling fields, rich with yellow rapeseed.20170406_114118We walked a section called the Roman Road, that would have been the perfect setting for this years annual international mud fighting championships. Colette fell victim to this section of the walks sludgy wrath not once but twice. She was literally found squirming around like a snared eel trying to escape the clutches of a feral mud monster. Let’s just say her clothing changed; evolving into army regulation camouflage, making it quite hard to distinguish her from her surroundings. It was reminiscent of that classic scene in Predator, when Arnie rises up from the mud with only the white of his eyes visible. predator-mud20170403_130053We ended our day at Oxnam Water where we wild camped beside the gentle gurgling of the stream there, fairly exhausted but enlivened by a good trudge through fields and woods with glorious blue sky and warm sunlight as our companion.20170404_08174920170404_143059Day three took us over the highest point and through the lovely little town of Morebattle where we met a chap called Richard renovating an old church, pretty much independently.20170404_123300It warms your heart to meet folk who just don’t settle for the norm. After a coffee we headed onwards and over the hills to Town Yetholm where we crossed the highest point and came face to face with an aesthetic asbo if ever there was one.20170406_225243I was visually assaulted by gnomes and am still left shaken by the grotesque, if strangely apocalyptic scene of gnomes taking over the world.20170404_161818Thankfully the great little campsite in Town Yetholm restored my frayed mental state. The pristine lawn was a OCD sufferers delight. I felt strangely compelled to measure individual blades of grass just to confirm the amazing uniformity and evenness of the surface. The shower too was a devine delight after a few days wild camping we were reminded of the simple pleasure of running warm water. It gets bad when you have to attach air-freshners to your ear lobes, so it’s safe to say the campsites basic facilities were a welcomed stopover indeed!20170326_14585620170406_224939The next day saw us walk over the border and down to Wooler. No offence intended but the soil over the border is decidedly poorer (I guess that’s why we gave the land up?). By the time we pitched our tents at Highburn campsite we felt like we’d been sentenced to 10 years hard labour breaking rocks just getting the bloody tent pegs in the ground, not to mention a general assault in the night by a ravenous, oversized hedgehog the size of a plump cat! England’s a wild place and clearly the Hogg in question was well used to stealing food from unsuspecting campers. It was quite large, which may justify the wild and fairly alarming screeching at 3 in the morning by Colette. Of course she was screaming as though her life was in danger, displaying no audible control in response to the subtle rustling of this menacing intruder.  He was eventually foiled by my flashlight and sent packing back to the woods he’d dared to venture out from but it was too late, the damage was all but done. Highburn campsite was no longer a place of tranquillity and certainly no amount of explaining in the morning could placate the snarling, contorted faces of our fellow campers…Woops.giant hedgehogWooler to Beal was a long days trek on interrupted sleep, over moorland and forest but we were given a sudden injection of energy as we got our first sight of our final destination shortly after visiting Saint Cuthbert’s Cave, where it’s documented the monks of Holy Island had fled, carrying the saint’s body to safety after a savage Viking attack.20170406_14254720170406_14033720170406_13492320170405_102440Coming up over that last hill the fields spread out before us, rolling out towards the coast, breathing renewed vigour into our now weary legs.  It was quite a sight that thankfully spurred us on to cross two man-made challenges that seem inherently bent on killing pilgrims in plain sight of Lindisfarne.20170408_07275120170408_073156Both the A1 motorway and the main east coast rail line have to be crossed which was hairy, if just short of terrifying. We approached the train tracks to find a big enticing yellow phone.  Colette naturally sprang at the chance to negotiate our safe passage or rather I should say have some phone banter with the signalman poised wearily at Tweedmouth rail junction.20170406_163554 She nonchalantly declared it would take us a mere minute to cross tracks that carry trains hurtling past between Scotland and England at 125mph. I sprang to life, gauping, slightly wide-eyed at the quite large wooden steps yet to be clambered over, darting feverishly with my cumbersome pack to avoid a messy splattering.  If we were tired at this point it certainly didn’t show!20170407_173826Having enjoyed her rather silly phone conversation, confused by the fellows incoherent accent and some quite obvious advice stating “don’t cross when there’s a train coming” we chortled at having survived the ordeal and completely forgot to phone back once safely across.  Is it any wonder that every subsequent train that passed could be heard hooting loudly from miles away.20170408_090916image-0-02-04-0bf07a177614330f5be08bed4c12c0ade24ddde4756b66327f25cc79c89f8202-V20170408_075825We allowed ourselves the luxury of a hostel and some fine nosh at the Lindisfarne Inn, preparing for an early morning walk over the tidal causeway to Holy Island.20170408_06363920170408_063241 We earned a stunning sunrise the next day and had 12km under our belt all before breakfast. We explored the island enjoying the gentle and beautiful rewards of its tranquil setting, knowing the efforts of the previous days had got us here the slow way and I sense the best way. It was a lovely end point and a place I’d certainly be tempted back to. The island is enchanting, given its tidal inaccessibility and seems quaintly stuck in time with its history evident in both the ruined Abby and prominent castle perched high against its eastern coastline.  There’s wildlife and admirable vistas over the mud flats not to forget the liquor of choice here, Lindisfarne mead. Those monks certainly had spirit as we did toasting the end of our walk.20170407_22304620170411_14412320170408_075656If you’re interested in the walk check out the link below to plan your own Saint Cuthbert’s Way adventure. Happy walking.20170408_073216http://stcuthbertsway.info

The Great Escape

20170101_141816It got to New Year and instead of embracing thousands of other human beings all frolicking around the multitude of Edinburgh’s bars and perhaps the biggest street party on this earth, I found an excuse to head for the hills.  The Southern Upland Way (SUW) is one of Scotland’s long distance coast to coast walks that you can do over a number of weeks or just dip a toe in and do a short section as I did.melroseabbey-450I headed off on the 31st of December for Melrose: a lovely, quaint town in the Scottish Borders famed for its small town charm, vast number of ice cream outlets, pubs and the ruined Abbey that draws in a good few bus loads of tourists each year.20161231_102644-1Heading north past the Abbey I met a slightly frenzied local who had more energy than most…side stepping his salivating jaws to cross the iconic foot suspension bridge where our venture of walking and wild camping would begin.
20170103_123645The rolling hills were typically moody and sullen at times with swirling cloudscapes promising a battering of rain but also offering a quick feeling of freedom and an intense sense of being away from the hussel and bussel of our lovely capital city….The landscape and route was truly void of any other souls.  I suppose the chill factor and the likelihood of poor weather kept all but a few farmers and a hardy feld runner at bay.20170101_143401There’s a lonely vastness about the Borders hills and although not tough terrain it does demand respect, given that most distances between towns can’t easily be covered in the daylight hours we have during winter here in Scotland, meaning that often a walk between towns involves a wee bit of wild camping and thus a heavier load to walk with.20170103_125125With all this considered, I reckon there’s nothing better than a good new year exfoliating hail storm to tear the flesh literally from your face, followed swiftly by a massage of sun, albeit glowing but far from warm to remove any clingy, previous year cobwebs. Scotland is certainly fresh, I’ll say that for her and combined with copious volumes of fresh air exhilarating the lungs,  I felt a real sense of contentment as the new year count down started ticking.
20161231_113526We made steady progress and found ourselves a few miles outside Lauder.  It was near a slither of woodland that we deciding to pitch out tent, providing the needed fuel for our Hogmanay camp fire and a little respite from the wind that had accompanied us all day.20170101_110015The threat of rain was ever looming so it was in the shelter of a fallen tree that I set up our stove and later got a heart-warming camp fire going to thaw the port and red wine we’d diligently lugged in our packs.20170101_113611In my humble opinion it is far from acceptable to omit an obligatory tipple from your rucksack….I believe it comes under first aid on the kit checklist!20161231_201938All was going well when my intrepid pal Colette, who’d wandered through a number of bogs and mud pools during the day, decided to warm her toes and boots by the toasty flames.  Not dissimilar to an incident involving Colette and a pair of her gloves I glanced up, smelling the putrid aroma of burning rubber to find not her gloves this time but her boots on fire, Colette oblivious to the entire incident….Thankfully with the reflexes of a pouncing cheetah I grabbed the boot and snuffed it out. They escaped with some minor melting but thankfully still wearable.  We toasted to a happy new year and made for our sleeping bags hearing the haunting sounds of owls calling into the night.20170101_103007The next day was cool and fresh with glorious low-lying sun, sparkling and twinkling against the fields.  We made our way down to Lauder to stock up and give ourselves a coffee and cake reward for getting up and braving the chilly temperatures.  Lauder seems quite lovely and although quiet on new years morning I did spy the Black Bull hotel and pub which may need to be frequented at a later date.  A rainbow welcomed us to the town as did a lovely shop keeper who gave us free cakes to help us on our way.  Thanks Lauder.20170101_120259We were soon back on the hills…uphill in fact for a good number of miles before tramping across the barren and desolate Lammermuir hills.20161231_114423The wind picked up but we dug in, leaning almost horizontally against it making it down to the delightful Blyth water spot we’d chosen for our camp site.20170102_085720
20170102_082316Just as well, as no sooner had we got the tent up when a snow storm swept across the hills, whipping at our tent leaving nothing else for it than to bed down, eat silky dark chocolate, washed down with a delightful Argentinean Malbec. It felt like a hurricane was forming around us but to its credit the two person Coleman tent stood her ground and we didn’t end up flying to Norway.20170102_090041The morning air was frosty and sharp as I took leave of the tent. The ground crunching with each fresh footprint and glistening like a carpet of jewels outstretched across the horizon. I love the quiet trance that nature lulls us into at these moments and I caught myself gazing at the beautiful hills surrounding me. Glancing down and coming back to myself, I noticed my laces had frozen into a delightful organic form and it was with a chuckle that I surveyed the white frost encasing the tent. What a lovely morning!20170102_09040620170102_082138Four layers of clothing later Colette and I could quite easily have auditioned for the next Jurassic Park movie, given my resemblance to a vast and cumbersome woolly mammoth trudging steadily through a smattering of melting snow.woolly-mammoth-1We watched the sunrise before packing up and trekking back over these lovely hills to Lauder for a welcomed lift back to Edinburgh and the hearty meal that now filled my thoughts.20170102_08320820170102_09300520170102_100511If you get a chance this year include a wee wander around the southern upland way on your resolution list, I know I’ll be back rambling around soon……All the very best for 2017.

The day my feet stood still…

20160706_08460120160706_091137Today I was kind to myself.  I factored in an hour of breaks which is just as well as the terrain was mostly over bolders and rocks, all thick with mud and as slippy as a pack of riving eels (not sure what they’d be doing underfoot but you get the idea).  I could easily have slipped into Loch Lomond on at least ten occassions and had a different kind of break altogether! 20160706_12322120160705_084640Predictably the going was naturally slow, infact at one point I stopped and my feet planted themselves to the spot in response to my knees whaling out in opposition to any further hauling of bags over treachrous, wet terrain. 20160706_085721On the plus side the wonderful vista of rushing water over black reflective rocks and lush inviting vegetation enough to make a wild herd of goats bleet out in ecstasy was admittedly a pleasant setting, if frought with danger.20160706_130455I settled down for the long haul to Inverarnan and although the rain started and didn’t stop around noon I really enjoyed the plodding.20160706_134333Maybe it was the space that would appear after hours going over rocks hugged by dense forest or maybe the comfort of a bothy to shelter in while stripping the shiney wrapper off a Tunnocks teacake and carefully sucking the white interior out with the skill of a humming bird gathering its nectar…..20160706_223127Either way I had a good day knowing myself, even if I can feel every shoulder, knee and foot muscle ache with radient consistency at the slightest movement….let’s hope a battered haddock and a cooling pint resolves the body groans in preparation for my jaunt to Tyndrum tomorrow😆

Sauna fa Gun

20160705_093654Leaving at 7am today was a good plan.  For one thing the zipping and unzipping had become mildly frenzied as folk lurched to the toilets at 5:30 am but more importantly the sun was blaring and my tent had become a mobile sauna. Time to get up out of ones own juices I think!  You could have served me with a bed of crisp seasoned vegetables, mustard mash and a peppercorn sauce such was the succulent pink taint of my flesh.20160705_07214320160705_064832Anyway I diverge…it’s tiredness. Back to the early morning walking, striding along a wet, glistening road illuminated by crisp morning sunlight was truly lovely. Flowers beckoned excited purposeful bees along the roadside and meadows burst with colourful interest as wild flowers started my day in a fashion comparable to Eden.  The vertical presence of the ever striking Foxglove once again accompanied me as I made slow but determined progress up Conic hill. How full of optimism and strength I felt only a few short hours ago having rested for many hours yesterday but after this climb and the next few hours of unrelenting undulating ups and down through Ross wood I am quite simply knackered……not fit for junk!20160705_084945The fact remains that I’ve been whittled down to half my former self by a relentless 7  hour march to Rowardennan and then some…to get to Ardess Ranger bunk house due to the syha having no room at the inn. Booking’s not for me, I like the fear and my tent is getting itchy again.20160705_12311220160705_09190720160705_092316Now the Rangers lodge has tickled me.  Even as I enjoy the use of a washing machine and drying room it has to be said that the even nicer sight of a lovely ranger called Fraser must be the jewel in today’s crown. Yes I’ve had glorious views over Loch Lomond and a shoreline to behold but as torn and limp as I am I still appear to be able to hold animated conversation with this majestic fellow.  Wow never mind the scenery!20160705_184952 20160705_162226Eh why are all the rugged rangers taken? Maybe he’s not? Just very keen to allude to the idea given my purple sweated face and drooling jowls…still I’m very glad I came here; it’s lovely and has nice surrounding trails and a fab historic recreation of a thatched house that’s well worth a look just out back.  Yes there’s nothing sweeter than eye candy and a fine place to lay your head down for a night.  It is likely however that ill not be able to move tomorrow so maybe a two-week stint with a certain ranger tending to my massage needs? Just tell me if this is unacceptable.  I fear I’m quite delirious.20160705_080833Off to camp at Inverarnan tomorrow where I believe there’s an old drovers pub that I’m keen to sample noted for its moth-eaten bear.  In all honesty I’ll probably be a walking zombie by then….guns to the ready…..

Water my doing oot here?

20160704_16075320160704_122727As I sprawl out, cozy for now at least, in my 1 person tent listening to the heavy and persistent pitter-patter of rain against my tent’s outer sheet; I’m hoping and mildly praying that it’s as waterproof as a young, sleek Tuna!US-Citizens-Tune-in-to-Hear-News-About-Radioactive-Tuna-220160704_161149In contrast to the dreich weather, the upbeat rise and fall of guttural German chatter can be heard outside balanced by soft French sighs, all thankful I’m sure for a distinct lack of swarming midge (hopefully all drowned by now).  Their young voices fade in and out thanks to the hammering of still heavier rain pounding relentlessly down with a certain menace against my north ridge tent. I wonder about the content of their conversation. “Are we mental coming here on holiday?” Yes you certainly all are, but join the clan and prepare to get wet.  Very wet.20160704_110416I’m considering what the hell I was thinking packing a bag excitedly and heading off on one of Scotland’s most iconic caminos with the vigour and thoughtless determination of a young salmon heading up-stream. Little did I know just how apt the analogy would become and as evidence would have it this could be quite a wet walk indeed!20160704_121451It seems I have a liking for torture or to stay optimistic, walks in nature but this might yet turn into an amphibians delight, an aquatic fun park or maybe just a tribute to Kevin Costner’s water world. Maybe it’s sailing I’ll end up doing.20160704_161107 I guess we’d never leave the house in Scotland if we sat waiting for good weather, but the thing is it’s a tent I’m in, not a dingy! And I didn’t bring a Goddamn swimsuit so Noah, you had best float by and pick up a partially drowned, flock of brightly coloured tents before the species goes under completely, never to unzip or breed again….the rains clearly hypnotic.1467660017371523627761On the plus side the train from Edinburgh Waverley via Partick was on time and swift.  The change at Partick was great as I got to remain on the same platform (2), and within 5 mins was whisked off on a further 15min journey to the pleasant start of my walk in the little town of Milngavie or “Mullguy” if you actually want to pronounce it correctly. The west coasters do weird stuff like that so expect words to have no phonetic resemblance to their actual spelling.20160704_100814Anyway, the rain stayed at a light drizzle all day as the flat and idyllic shire-like pastures unfolded towards our first stop Drymen (not exactly a name characteristic of our current conditions but hopefully dry tomorrow).  A gentle path follows an old railway line and produced lovely jewels like ginger cows and radiant foxglove interrupted by birch woodland shroud in bird song. The still Lochs soon to be filled up, glistened between sunny spells and the gentle gurgle of the river  accompanied my way north. Arriving at the Drymen campsite about 1:30pm, the clouds started darkened and I made haste like a hungry cheetah to get the water proof coffin erected.  Just in time too as the heavens opened and spewed Scotland’s favorite weather type upon us.20160704_095520
I’m at that point now where having found a stray can of Sardines to improve my cous cous and a delightful free can of Carlsberg lager my bladder is beginning to moan and swell with the pressure.  The problem of course is how to get to the toilet and back without being swept down stream…? I’m very reluctant to leave my cozy little shelter but I guess if I burst, the whole campsite would be swept off to a watery grave and I can’t have that on my conscience. I’m gonna get wet one way or the other….one less smelly and acidic so off I go to the loo humming that Travis classic – ‘why does it always rain on me’.  The tourists are only a little bemused.1467660513942138988234114676603417881774139205Signing out as my bladder begins to put pressure on the other tents. Water my doing out here!

Spit it Oot

edinburgh-Princes-Street-Gardens-1500x850Putting aside the fact that I don’t have an endless spring of flowing free cash nor a stinking rich significant other (all applications will be considered) or indeed a vast untapped inheritance, I thought today might be a good day to consider what makes a person return home in the wake of my own homecoming to Edinburgh after 10 months of diverse travel. 20160514_135728-1I suppose the fresh, rather cutting wind sweeping along Edinburgh’s Princes Street today, may have whipped up a curious state of contemplation in me enough to prompt such deliberation.

Our weather here in Bonnie Scotland is certainly not high on most people’s reasoning to enjoy this eclectic and rich culture, but it does have you scuttling into coffee shops, where wistful thinking is always welcomed (J.K Rowlan territory). So here I am, thinking that weather might actually form part of my appraisal of returning to Scotland.  Is it true that I like the unpredictable and constantly changing nature of Scotland’s weather? Yes I think so;  I like the freezing flurry of cold wind against freckled skin, even though it’s now summer.  For one thing it cools my consistently ruddy cheeks and barely penetrates my seal like blubber, so yes, 10 degrees totally rocks if you’re me!20160516_153916blossomThen there’s the inherent beauty of Scotland’s wild spaces and her abundance of preserved architecture from Pict settlements to Edinburgh’s picturesque Georgian New town.  I can’t seriously overlook our proud history of invention, creativity and now politics nor the indelible dark humour that pumps like blood through the veins of Scottish culture. And with more Castles and Churches than I have freckles (that’s saying something) you’ll also never be short of a fortress or a prayer during a Zombie apocalypse; what more could I want?20160513_133339sculpture20160518_162123As you might expect, my conclusions for returning, moulded slowly over a delightful coffee in a fine establishment called Artisan Roast on Broughton street (Edinburgh)helped me to realise that it’s simply the people in our lives who interact and embrace us that ultimately anchor most of us to home.20160511_164448 Returning home is certainly bolstered by fun venues, eclectic festivals, tasty fresh food, creativity and art, an air of sophisticated learning and progress and of course the tangy, cheap Whiskey found lurking in the notorious Central bar in Leith not to forget a warming folk song or two in the Royal Oak just off the Bridges. Indeed there are many reasons to return and ‘bide at hame’ but there’s nowt quite like folk!20160514_12071220160507_161338The banter of Scottish folk is well-known but did you know that we have men, so skilled in the art of spitting that they can bring a buffalo down in one feld swoop such is the size, speed and adhesive viscosity of their produce. I was reminded of this ancient sport today by an elderly gent who released a turbo charged globule of spit that pole vaulted over my head, missing my tanned freckled cheeks by what we would call ‘a baw hair’! That’s a close shave in English!

I giggled nervously after the assault knowing I was one step away from an OCD meltdown but I was also in awe of the velocity, trajectory and general surprise of the incident (you can imagine how such a substance might halt traffic, now consider what might have become of me had I been encased?!).

The nice thing about this sport is the gruff apology that followed indicating that Scottish men have clearly evolved since I left… This is certainly not what people would deem to be an acceptable reason to return home and embrace Scotland for, but it did make me consider the uniqueness for good or bad of her people and made me laugh uproariously.3.smBagpipes Scotland to me is familiar and easy and if your heart is softened to it, as mine is, there’s no better place on earth.  Her people, spitting Olympians included can be a little odd (often dependent on postcode), a little reckless depending on how much alcohol is swirling through the blood and sometimes downright nuts, but I think in all honesty the cap fits. There are few caps I’d rather wear and simply being back amongst friends, family has highlighted the joy that is Scotland and her people.20160508_112210 There’s certainly something in the special banter that makes our differences so sweet and our humour so silly. Sadly we don’t all say bye bye to our local bus drivers quite as enthusiastically as this wee woman, herself an advocate for the nation!

The brutality of not being submerged in such a culture, can surely only be compared to a fish gasping for air on dry land. Thankfully I’ve dived back into the place I call home and in spit of itself it’s still a wonderful wee country to return to. porty beach

Goan Home….

20160423_08135520160423_081324There are little things that we adjust to when we stay in one place for a while. Little things that fade from our senses like ripples breaking and scattering across a still lake.  Of course it’s very easy to notice your senses when faced with giant cascading waterfalls, inspiring mountains or aromatic temples or spice plantations, but it takes incredible effort to sense, notice and value the things that are ordinary; a struggle I pursued with interest before embarking upon this trip.20160426_120602My first stop was ‘The Camino de Santiago’ which simplified everything and brought small ordinary things into focus, allowing time for the mind to gently notice things that we miss in the chaotic rush of life. Soon after the Camino however I found my movement, travels and saturation within a multitude of cultures and countries both exciting and dizzying; I was quickly swept away on a tide of exploration with wide eyed wonder at the world.20160426_142621 Luckily travel sometimes seems to set it’s own pace and flows and ebbes with a slower mood allowing you to taste a destination with greater awareness. It’s not just the familiar that can fade and dull if you’re not careful. Writing this blog has certainly helped at points to articulate the flavour of my senses and has made me look closer, at times when I might have moved too quickly. Pace is its own challenge and sometimes my surroundings seemed to lose their shine in a dash to see more.20160426_21422120160426_131838I’ve found that being away has greatly shielded me from this faint distance that can grow between our surroundings and our inner world, but there were times when I physically just closed my eyes and didnt want to look around.  It’s like we participate in allowing things to fade, choosing to retreat instead and spend time elsewhere in our minds refusing to notice the subtle, beautiful shifts in the everyday things be it Rio, Hong Kong or Leith. It takes firm resolve to pay attention, to come back to the present with genuine wonder and interest whether it’s down to jaded apathy or wide eyed apprehension of the unknown.20160426_145805This week of all weeks I’ve paid close attention to this shifting of phase and felt it more like a pleasant wind than a lack of luster which I think means I’ve travelled inside as well as out. Only a short week has passed here, yet each day has seemed a little slower and longer than the next toying I’m sure with quantum physics. It’s the end of season here in Goa and perhaps the packing away of umbrellas, the hint of a stronger wind stirring off shore and the visible loss in the faces of locals as they watch their income taking flight like migrating birds is emotive and fitting. With the last scattering of tourists ambling around combined with my own quiet days of prolific reading; the hypnotic rhythm of crashing waves, the intermittent buzz of crickets and the occassional haunting call of an unfamiliar bird I’m lulled into a self-induced trance not dissimilar to the tired stares of local woman selling flip flops. I find lazy days here easy to master as though I’d clambered into a cocoon shielded from the outside world.

The ocean still commands my attention of course as I walk within it’s warm, soothing waters as does the intense heat of the day as I reach for cool liquids but should I be concerned by such stillness? Is this a state of apathy or relaxation I’ve not experienced before? Is my body finally telling me it’s tired of its long exciting adventure? Perhaps allowing the quiet within myself is more acutely startling than I could know.

I woke this week to the curious sense of being emphatically lazy. But life as I’ve come to know it is energy and I wake again tuning myself back into my surroundings like a lost radio station found amongst the white noise. There’s more chattering than I thought; a local dialect dances up and down from a kitchen where the hiss of fresh giant prawns are being fried and the scent of intense spice wafts intoxicatingly on the hot air currents.  The powerful sound of the waves fade for a moment as I catch a carrion crow rasp a number of sharp, rough caws from a wooden fence hoping to poach at scraps.  Cheers rise and fall as a distant football game erupts.  The upbeat pop of a beer bottle opening behind me, soft reggae music faint in the background and the rapid flapping of a fallen sun shade bring this place alive again in all its sedated glory.20160425_183601I suppose what I’m reminding myself of here is we can wake up to any day in our lives be it in Goa, New York, London or Edinburgh and shake up apathy or slow down the blur without needing a ticket. This is a stirring lesson I feel I needed to remind myself before returning home after a long while spoiled by exotic and wonderful sights. If I can remember adventure lurks and hides within the ordinary I might yet have travelled further than I could have imagined. It’s time to Goa home and see it all with fresh eyes keeping the internal journey ‘goan’ and my salivating, urgent need for a humble baked potato suppressed at least until passport control allow my dubious freckle count back into the country. Next exciting installment…tuna tattie by the Thames.

The Human Candle

20160421_12181520160420_13204220160421_103027-1When sweat production rises above 3 rapid beads per second to a cascade running down each side of your temple, warning bells ring out in the mind.  Big loud screaching bells…..your legs begin to scuttle a little faster and when you finally reach the bleached white facade of a Portuguese church your adrenalin pushes you in with no uncertain urgency.20160421_103559-1 20160422_144435Lunging for the shade my soaked body expelled a sigh of release, venting a sizzling hiss out into the cold volume of the church; her darkness smothering me in a loving embrace. As my eyes adjust to the shadowy interior it’s only then I realise I’ve stumbled, albeit delirious into a funeral service.  No matter, another mourner is always welcome even if they do appear pink like a rare steak with succulent juices running freely.20160420_11560120160422_14454620160420_13175420160420_131834 Before the end of the service I think better of attending the burial or wake. Backing out gingerly into the mid-day Balti pot I make my escape hugging as much shade for a few miles beyond the church as I can, finally making it back down towards the beach and the soothing shade of a beach shack.20160421_12221520160421_120722I see how far I’ve come, with a long scorching stretch of sand sprawling out before me. The task now is how to get back along this vast panoramic beach to the hotel without a self-inflicted cremation?  The brain begins to blink and bleep as it computes the foul options before me.20160420_12375020160420_124034Option A. Running in short bursts? No! Heat exhaustion could creep in quicker that way…B. Swim? Mmm no! Sun reflection and nakedness might cause extreme burning to the back and bum cheeks, there must be a better way? C. Sweet talk the life guard with the red jeep into giving me a lift. Mmm possible but unfortunately I’m not wearing my gold tassel bikini and I’m not overly sure I’m looking my sweated best given I now ressemble a large melted white candle. In fact I’m basically a human drum of bio ethanol minutes away from going up in an inferno of flames. Nope this wont do the jeep might explode. D. Wait until nightfall. Plausible but likely to incur a rather large bar bill. E. Walk swiftly along the wet sand with speed, stopping every 10-15 minutes in the many beach shacks for water and an obligatory cocktail while trying to minimise the impact of the suns rays with factor 50. Yes! The risk assessment for this last option seems agreeable. Phew! Life is perilous down in sunny Goa.20160421_12063920160419_132948 Fingers crossed I make it back without becoming a stick of charcoal or indeed a flailing inferno of flesh part drowned from a desperate bid to put myself out.  I think tomorrow I’ll consider buying a bio suit or resign myself to a life of perpetual darkness.images

Mumbai Bye

20160417_15130220160417_14453120160417_115107Mumbai international airport was eerily quiet with not a soul in the customs hall except me and one lethargic customs official. His polite interrogative questions seemed loud in such a vast, empty space, yet when I asked, truly puzzled as to where everybody else was, a quiet mystical shrug, celebrated by the metalic clang of his passport stamp rung out like a Buddhist prayer bell. This was perhaps a question only the Dali Lama might tackle.20160417_160958There was of course only one bag slowly coasting around the squeaky conveyor belt with staff poised nearby like patient vultures hovering near a still twitching corpse.  I considered that a zombie apocalypse was underway but given it was around 4pm and I’d just got off a plane with another 100 or so folk I was begining to think that perhaps I’d died and my soul had kept walking….it’s a supernatural and unnerving event to suddenly have an airport virtually to youself at that hour.  I escaped through the arrivals exit and thankfully found more of the human race but clearly the rest of flight 9w265 had vanished. Where’s Mulder and Scully when you need them eh?20160417_160119So I get a cab. Correct me if I’m wrong here, I thought taxis were more than just random cars with Ejits driving them.  I got into the cab, I tell the driver the location and show him the address repeating it slowly, then show him 3 maps to which he nods, shakes his head enthusiastically and smiles.  This reassuringly indicates to me that he knows where he’s going and that I’m a paying passenger going to a destination as many have before me. All is well with the world, order prevails and this is not the final frontier where I might expect to boldly go where no-one has gone before. It’s Mumbai and I’m in a taxi, yet I might as well have been in an un-maned probe to the Gamma Quadrant.imagesIf I have to get my compass out and question the Mumbai public ever again to locate my own hotel I’ll personally utilise a 100 Ruppee note with Gandhi beaming back at me to paper slash the next so called ‘taxi driver’ into a couple of thousand sushi rolls.20160417_125913 With my temper a little frayed the driver asks me if we go straight ahead?  He seems to think I look Indian? Is it the fact that my freckles are now completely joined as one and I’m being mistaken for a resident of Mumbai? How could I possibly know where we’re going? Maybe I look like a Guru of sorts? I’d really like to have conducted a personal work review or a continued professional development plan for this chap.   There’s certainly room for a greater skill base with navigation underlined forcefully on his individual learning plan. Mind you it is hard to convey this when your use of English has been paired down to one verb and don’t even think about past tense.  I’m gonna come home with speech like the Wolf Boy or Man Friday at this rate.20160417_151351Luckily the next day I met a real professional in the form of ‘Mahinder’. One of those taxi drivers who steer with their toes while using their arms for the animated process of Indian conversation over a mobile.  The eye masks you sometimes get on long haul flights would be beneficial to retaining ones nerves when spending a day in a Mumbai taxi rushing round the sights.20160417_12412620160417_20274820160417_12385520160417_143335It was fun. We both got to the point of using dismissive hand signals and flicking our heads saying ‘chop’- a colloquial way of saying in Hindi ‘shut it you’ to the disordered hoards of erratic drivers occupying the road here.20160417_151053 20160417_124049We crammed in as much as Mahinder’s driving could afford us.  I had a sense of Mumbai being the best Indian city I’ve had grace to visit yet and if I can give advice in my all knowing Guru capacity, if you’re flying to India stop here before you throw yourself into Delhi. Delhi is like dark matter: an unseen malevolent force harmful to tourists where as Mumbai is like a vision of earth albeit distorted. For me it’s a warm city (literally as well as being hospitable) with less hassel and of course it has the ocean to support the course of mindfullness you’ll certainly need to adopt upon arrival in the great nation of India. Good Luck on your journey should you get to say hi and bye bye to Mumbai.20160417_150615images (1)

Wet Souls

20160410_110824Like the start of so many journeys on this trip I found myself this morning stretched out like a warm, lazy dog reluctantly rubbing the sleep out of my eyes, and then with some resolve and a quick lick of the lips I jump up and have a shake of my tail….well okay, maybe it was more like a lightheaded stagger towards the shower. Anyway with an outcry of blessings going through my mind at the appearance of hot water I considered the day ahead.20160410_112733 Pokhara is a town like many others except it has a delightful lake with many a restaurant selling everything and a lassi (to be understood as a wholesome milk drink as oppose to the illegal trade of Scottish girls). So first I’ll have breakfast here at the Tristar, a family run hotel I’m calling home just now and then a wander by the lake passing a few of my favorite bikes and then a cool banana lassi. That’ll start the day in as civilised a manner as can imagine.20160410_143245As the last cool slurp of lassi dissappeared I turned the next page of my book to find a chapter break. The natural pause allowed for a welcome glance at the lake with it’s lovely vibrant boats baking nicely in the sunlight before I did that lovely thing that involves hopping to your feet, hailing a cab and whisking off to a temple.20160410_10361420160410_105627So why this temple? Well it’s a cave and considering my Albinoism it seemed like a strategy for self preservation. Located at the western side of Pokhara and not far from the lakeside, it’s entered down a spiral staircase in the bowels of the earth here you’ll find Gupteshwor Mahadev Cave.20160410_145337I make my way down towards the entrance noting exotic sculptural forms and colourful statues and then with some horror I note the pile of colourful shoes.  Of course! That makes sense it’s a temple after all, but really no shoes in a cave? As if to read my mind a cheerful voice reminder me of the shoeless practice here. Off with the shoes then! I took a deep breath and stepped into the cavernous darkness with both soles of my feet bare and pressed hard against frigid unknown liquids!20160410_105405 With rubble underfoot causing an uneven jerking motion I made slow precarious progress downwards towards a slippy set of ladders.  The things you do for faith eh…or at least the repect of others faith? Like a white ghost I seemed to cause quite a stir as I stummbled onwards deeper into the darkness towards some bell ringing, my face glowing at the other devotees prompting a few photos of me and the accompanying family.

Health and safety went right out the window when I stood on a wet bulbous form that in my imagination was a squashed blooded mammal the size of a small rodent of sorts….the resulting spasmodic toe stubb had me gripping the cave walls with a flash of red temper bubbling up to the brim of my throat. Who leaves socks to fester in a dark, albeit holy cave? I’d honestly have stuffed the soaked, crumpled ball swiftly down the sock offenders throat if I’d got half a chance. Never mind peace and love to all men!20160410_105544 Thankfully a further 10 meters presented a long luminous vertical crack in the rock with the gurgling rush of a little waterfall. With water dripping continuously from above and a dank, cold scent invading my nostrils (probably from a good few thousand other dead socks) and God knows what else on the floor my mild to moderate OCD kicked in like a defibrillator. I felt a sudden pang of sickness at what was lurking underfoot and I struggled hard against a complete muscle spasm. My throat convulsed and at that I made a hasty retreat with filth clinging to my ankles.  I certainly made a prayer or two….”Good God save me from this watery sewer of Hell, take away the limp shards of wet muddy tissue clinging with menace to my toes…..forgive all the wet souls and cleanse my size 9 soles while you’re at it! Please have mercy!20160410_165841The story ends with loud dryboaking and some very vigorous scrubbing with a bar of detol soap. With my soles clean I can now finally consider a little tipple to soothe my shaken and frayed soul. Beware of temple caves!

Himalaya happy and you know it…

20160403_075114Nepal has its fair share of chaotic city life in the wonderous, colourful corridors of Kathmandu, however this sprawling mishmash of box houses and the surrounding hussel and bussil, albeit polite and typically gracious do make for a wanton escape to the hills.20160407_062532Like many other Himalayan pilgrims before us we headed to Pokhara, traversing high twisting roads with breathtaking drops, arriving a good 6-7hrs later at the pleasant lakeside town that fools you into believing its small, given the easy throng of activity that exists along its relaxed shores.  A high vantage point such as the Buddhist Stupa watching over the town like a white guardian soon reveals an outward sprawl of pastel coloured houses, all crowding together as though to retain some warmth. Most visitors only pass through this hive of houses as they enter or leave the town meanwhile Pokhara seems to grow fat from the many visiting trekkers and expands far back towards the hills that contain it.20160406_10525920160406_114146-1Visitors are attracted to the lakeside like thirsty amphibians during a dry spell and delight in the many colourful little boats bobbing and hugging the tranquil shores. The streets of course are lined with outdoor shops feeding off a transient population of trekkers, all heading out on one of the many alluring mountain trails.20160402_080037 20160331_095913Coming to Nepal means one thing to most tourists: The Himalayas and therafter steps, altitude and jaw dropping views worthy of a disslocation or two.  The air may get thinner but most of the gasping comes from finding yourself in the majesty of nature. One might even say God.20160401_08193020160403_080638 The snow capped giants twinkle at you as the sun rises and radiates off their luminous white snow, contrasting against the razor sharp prussian blue shadows and crevaces that give them their character. It’s intoxicating making your eye’s hungry for more.20160403_060748The inumerable and often irregular steps that carry you ever higher are punishing but with delightful mountain life evident in the wandering herds of goats, lazy masticating buffalo and the sweetest children on this earth you push on through the need of a respirator towards your goal.Screenshot_2016-04-08-07-17-35-120160408_07273620160329_204420In our case we ambitiously dared to reach Annapurna base camp, 4130mt high and a dizzying up and down that requires steady plodding in the face of neck straining hilltop villages such as Chomrong or Gandruk.20160405_120845Sure enough our adventure took us north up through a valley to seek and capture those hugely iconic snow capped peaks and precarious stepped farmlands.  We weren’t dissapointed; quickly becoming accustomed to the crunch of stone underfoot and lush green jungle, ever protective of snaking paths heading deeper into high country.20160401_09241920160405_09580920160329_14452420160331_091350 Each night a hearty plate of momo, vegetable rice, pasta or noddles filled us and not long after laid us to sleep as the sweat and heat of the day took its toll. Early to bed and early to rise meant we started each day just as the mountains groaned awake with sunlight. A hearty morning cup of lemon, ginger and honey tea switched us on and oiled our tired limbs. It’s quite satisfying how such simple things can induce such contentment.20160403_15441320160401_150402Our last hour towards base camp saw us move in slow motion as altitude weighed us down ever heavier.  Understandably the emotive sense of achievment in reaching our goal felt as though the mountains had finally accepted us; a startling acceptance given the toil that a good trek imbues upon her pilgrims.  In short we were bloody knackered and darn glad we’d made it to the wonderfully colourful rags and flags that welcome you to base camp.20160403_07195220160331_131422If ever there was a time or place to feel camaraderie it’s here!  Having struggled individually to one point, a beautiful point encircled by mountains, a simple warm glance at each other is all that was needed to mean and say well done, we made it! Thanks to Colette and Maddy for those lovely precious and comical days of walking. It’s left me high, quite literally at the foot of the Himalayas.Screenshot_2016-04-07-15-07-49-120160403_055016

 

 

Ganga Lama and a Bomb

20160326_151516Kathmandu has a different flavour, a marinade of warmer people perhaps? Appearing less pushy or determined to fleece you in quite the same way as her much bigger southern neighbour.  As far as cities go it’s busy and chaotic but with a charming appeal to tourists; the economic staple here in Nepal. With countless shops and trinkets to interest a casual brigade of travellers, Nepal prides herself on hospitality. To faciltate this the city wraps around you with it’s warren of narrow streets lined with shops and roof top bars and cafes much like capillaries linked to veins and the occassional clogged artery packed with a throng of white taxis, cycle rickshaws and motorbikes echoing across the city, as it beats with life.20160326_125841As we wander the streets and visit the sites I notice how things have changed since my last visit some 8 years ago. The earthquake has left an indelible scar upon architecture, but visible also is human poverty which seems to cling to the rubble as we explore the city. The crunch of construction work hammers out steadily each day in an effort to rebuild.  People go about their business with admirable strength, smiling at us as we pass their shops or enter their restaurants. Life goes on. Of course it’s very sad to see such destruction especially to world heritage sites like those defying gravity in Durbur Square.20160326_130923It’s clear however that the key to progress is the stoic perseverance of which I’m certain is indemic here in Nepal’s people. You don’t need to look too far before you’re enveloped in warm conversation and laughing heartely.
Our wanderings led us finally to the colloquially named Monkey Temple sitting high above the city.  With a glorious gold stupa shining like a beacon from the top we endured the sticky trek upwards following the glint of bouncing sunlight like moths.20160326_15331720160326_152415Finally, Kathmandu spread out like lego beneath us, as monkeys jump and frolic around us, feeding on various treats and stealing anything of interest. Monks and worshipers circle the stupa steadily rattling prayer wheels, burning offerings and praying faithfully as we catch our breath.20160326_15300020160326_15232820160326_153007-1Amongst the devotees tourists watch and mingle round the little stalls that nest at the top and line the steps on either side selling various trinkets.  On our way down we took time to look at and admire all the things you will never need in life like curious magpies.20160326_130938-1As we approached the next stall we met a lovely woman called Ganga Lama.  With outstretched arms and a braking smile oozing energy she was hard to resist and we found ourselves caught up in warm chatter. Her beaming face, full of charisma and humour charmed us.  Her infectious laugh delighted us as we playfully bartered for some completely unnecessary beads.20160326_155108In the absence of Easter eggs we figured prayer beads might substitute as a treat of sorts but actually this wonderful interaction became the treat and we left after many photographs and handshakes glad we’d met such a captivating soul.  Appearing happy to her core and delighted by selling 3 sets of beads I wish the same contentment could be found in everyone for the humble cost of a pint; the world would be a much richer place if we all poured ourselves out like the lovely Ganga Lama.   If you find yourself on the stairs heading up to this temple look out for her near the halfway point on the right-hand side as you ascend, she’s sure to add spice to your day albeit at a small cost.  Thanks Ganga 😊.jet-airways_2283321e-c34b-11e5-878d-765e7b48378dAs if life wasn’t interesting enough we got word earlier that Maddy arriving on the ill fated Jet Air flight from Delhi was delayed due to a suspected bomb! Now, I’ve heard of arriving with a bang but this takes the biscuit.  The plane circled for an hour then finally landed.  All passengers got off the plane at a deserted runway before it was thoroughly searched for explosive devices.  Scarey stuff.  Hopefully the only explosives Maddy sees during the rest of her trip will be thanks to a spicy Dal curry….next stop Himalayas.😊

Jaipur: not for the faint hearted

20160323_132010Travelling west from Agra and Chambal we collided with Jaipur, a city known also as the pink city. The old walls and buildings in the old quarter are uniform pink or if you have eyes like mine you might say Sienna.  There’s nothing pink about the walls but I’ve allowed this colour discrepancy to wash over me without any ill temper towards Indian inaccuracies…2016-03-23 14.24.4820160323_1659032016-03-23 14.24.17The city is certainly alive as the Indian nation prepares for Holi. People scurry around buying coloured dye, water guns and an array of tasty sweet snacks in preparation for a few days of fun and feasts. We find ourselves caught up in the chaotic motion as our tuk tuk weaves precariously with speed around stationary traffic, dawdling cows and kamakazi pedestrians. There’s already people vomiting out of cars and colour powder fights visible as we head to the notable Amber Fort on a high hillside north of the city.2016-03-23 11.25.512016-03-23 12.07.26gardensIt’s hot as we crane our necks to the look at the splendour of mans endeavours. The fort stands proud as a stream of tourists make the 15 minute hike up to the entrance. Decorated elephants slowly plod upwards carrying immoral individuals to the main gate. Their eyes mournful and their movements that of a broken soul. I find myself quickly angered by the sight of this, spurring me onwards to the top as I imagine pulling a sword out and slashing it across the throats of these putrid vessels of humanity. Okay you get that I wasn’t keen to see these majestic animals used in this way.20160323_114547Just as the elephants had struggled it became clear that Colette herself felt drained by this quick, sharp ascent. She gulped at sweet mango juice but still looked pained by each step.  Having reached the top we took refuge in the many beautiful alcoves and delighted in finding a little coffee shop in the bowels of the fort.colette1Standing waiting on our two coffees I glanced at Colette who by now looked as though her soul had been sucked out by an unscrupulous hungry demon. Pale like chalk and with drained lips, hanging on her feet by a thread she announced “I don’t feel well, I think I’m going to be sick” then with a few delirious steps her crumpled and thankfully very lite frame was in my arms. I carried her over to the chair, held her head up and got some cool water. She mumbled incoherntly but sipped back sugary water and slowly revived. For one minute I thought she might need to be placed in the recovery position and strapped over the back of an elephant to get down but thankfully she stayed with us and gulped back a number liquids. This fort is certainly not for the faint hearted.2016-03-23 12.13.12

Snouts

2016-03-20 14.05.012016-03-20 14.07.05Like two pampered Queens of Sheba we dropped our bags in the boot and sat back to watch India fly by from the cool air conditioned comfort of our car. We headed south about 60km to the Chambal Nature Reserve staying at the wonderful Chambal lodge, a literal oasis and quiet sanctuary away from the lively hive of Agra with its swarm of people and honey is money philosophy.2016-03-22 08.35.49With friendly staff on hand to meet us we immediately considered ourselves welcome as gentle nods and ingratiating hand shakes invited us in.  The grounds are large with a soft vista of trees and flowers framing the simple traditional buildings that accomodate a family home and the lodge’s comfortable villas.2016-03-20 18.13.01Colette typically was very interested in the food that would sustain us for the next few days. She declared her approval having inspected fresh, subtly flavoured salads, home baked breads, light hydrating soups and a vegetarian’s delight of 8 scruptious dishes each night accompanied by rice.  The woman from Broughton Road said yes!2016-03-20 17.39.21The proud resident chef, always full of smiles and concern for our enjoyment happily observed our empty plates and accepted our warm thanks, such was the tasty treats that filled us full each day. He even accommodated my desire to learn how to make chapati which was fun!2016-03-20 21.08.18Our first afternoon saw us meet ‘sir-denis’ our very sweet yet assured guide.  With a youthful smile and intense eyes he politely asked if we were ready? “Yes” we both announced glancing at each other wondering what we might need to ready ourselves for.  We’d decided a visit to the nearby temples that crest the river might be a relaxing start to our stay in this part of India, void of tourists yet only a few hours south of Agra: the toursit Mecca.2016-03-20 17.41.52The first temple located amongst some scrubland was disappointing; white with little decoration.  I was worried we’d peaked too soon with the Taj Mahal to appreciate this rural location and this humble place of worship.2016-03-20 17.12.532016-03-20 17.18.03But as the sun started to dip, lively Hindu music could be heard merging tonally opposing notes energetically.  The busil of a market place and temple came quickly into view with cows and pigs strolling and foraging around the peripherals. We walked amongst life here looking on and absorbing this strange yet facinating place. 2016-03-20 13.45.182016-03-21 08.53.54Our pale faces appeared brighter than the vibrant powdered colours laid out ready for ‘Holi’, India’s famous festival of colour splashing. Locals looked on at us curiously yet appeared untouched by tourism enough to forego trying to sell us something or beg money which even after only a few days in India was very satisfying.2016-03-20 17.20.42dye powderWe turned back towards the river to witness the spectacle of white structures lining the river bank like glistening white sugar cubes sweet upon the eye. Taking to a small boat we travelled gently up the river feeling small beneath these structures while people washed clothing oblivious to our gaze.2016-03-20 17.51.3620160320_175800The main temple was busy but we were beckoned in by Denis and followed curious to see what all the colouful commotion was about. That’s when we found ourselves deeply inbroilled in a ceremony involving lots of chanting and ritual flower throwing.  Very serious stuff that was hard to stay entirely straight about.2016-03-20 18.06.522016-03-20 17.39.02I didn’t want to catch Colette’s eye for fear she’d laugh and drop the plate of fire she was busy gyrating in front of the metallic head of Sheva. Coloured powder was smeared upon our foreheads and bright yellow garlands placed around our necks, further immersing us in this intriguing yet bizarre blessing.  Whoever thought the Catholics were into ceremony clearly haven’t been here! We left wide-eyed and 20 rupees lighter having thrown powder, flowers, leaves, mints, and a melon which Colette was intrusted to place.  She was a little unsure of her conduct with the melon and although there was no emergency I half expected her to take a nervous bite out of it.2016-03-20 18.07.05We left quite stunned but tainted sympathetically towards the devotees and tremendous aesthetic appeal of India’s biggest faith. Denis led us up to a rooftop serving tea to watch the sun go down, ever keen to show us his favorite Bollywood movies imparting as much about his country as possible.2016-03-21 08.10.532016-03-21 08.38.09So we came here in search of the illusive and shy Gharial with its rather alluring snout. Colette armed with a toothbrush boarded our little personal river boat and we set off with Denis our naturalist, as the early morning sun started to scorch our backs with warmth. It wasn’t long before we saw the slender form of four Gharial slipping with agility into the water from the shallow sand banks they like to bask upon.Gharial2The river and its banks are very clean and populated by a great variety of rare birds, fish, turtles crocodiles and of course the long snouted Gharial. We were very lucky, instead of submerging as the others had one lone Gharial sat poised ever watchful but fearless.  We sat for sometime watching it flick its eyes open and closed before finally making off.2016-03-21 08.29.482016-03-21 07.24.01A trip to India is always going to be frenetic. However making this trip off the beaten track has been a wonderful opportunity, showing us an innocent rural India that refreshed us but more importantly charmed us. Thanks to Denis our wonderful guide and the lovely staff and owners of the Chambal Lodge for letting us taste such splendid hospitality by the Chambal river.

Taking the Taj

2016-03-20 06.55.3920160319_135214Having survived Delhi we heading by train south to the city of Agra famed for the Taj Mahal and other notable Mughal architectural jewels.20160319_14015720160319_142127Agra is around 2-3hr south of Delhi and similarly is a whirl wind of Indian life.  It of course oozes all the typical derision for rules, with a delightful exception to order fueling a kaleidoscopic existance.20160319_1539532016-03-19 21.28.47If the excitable high octane shouting and screaming I heard leaving Agra train station could manifest itself into a physical action, then I reckon I’d have been lassoed swiftly and hung drawn and quartered by the barrage of audio from competing Taxi and Auto rickshaw drivers awaiting their prey. Our express train was only 1hr late which may explain why the waiting mob was salivating and slightly Agra…ssive.  Sorry couldn’t resist that one.20160324_10210520160320_151326-1So Agra is all about the Taj Mahal and is a pilgrim route for most if not all tourists wading into India via Delhi, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s all about tourists.  This man-made wonder is as much a lure to Indians and given the tiny entrance fee for nationals it’s no wonder it’s popular.20160319_140422-120160319_1501462016-03-23 12.11.44We zipped via rickshaw with interest and speed around the baby Taj, the impressive Red fort and the gardens which lie opposite the Taj Mahal to wet our appetites. Then true to any text written about her ‘the pist de la resistance’ and heavenly jewel of Agra, and the sparkling white treasure of any visit to India, The Taj Mahal came into view forever etched as a white diamond in our minds.2016-03-20 07.25.502016-03-20 06.57.332016-03-20 07.36.49If only the process for accessing this heavenly sanctum was as symetrically perfect and tantamount to the beautiful order demonstrated by the building herself. In stark contrast and perhaps even comparable to hell we endured a number of rage inducing events.20160319_14102120160324_120937First the tickets are not available at the gate. Surprisingly they can be obtained a kilometer away which doesn’t help if you’ve walked to the gate at dawn.  Then the queue to get the ticket builds a certain amount of teeth grinding in itself as it trickles along without urgency.  Finally you reach the front and are told No! No change! No ticket! At which point I imagined thrusting my hand through the communication gap in the glass, grabbing the back of the guy’s skull and hauling this impetious ticket sellers forehead through the glass with certain force.2016-03-20 07.06.54I opted for the more peacful option thankfully, venting boiling steam out of my ears and rolling my eyes with vexed agitation. I raised my voice declaring how ridiculous the situation was….”a man made wonder of the world and you don’t have change! Give me a break will you!” A few of us clubbed together got the tickets then endured a stampede to get aboard the tiny bus commissioned to take us to our next queue.2016-03-19 15.27.12By this point it was every man, woman and indian counterpart for themselves….pushing, biting, and scratching our way to the distant entrance and security. Finally I caught sight of a security woman frisking and searching people.  We must be close now. Excitement built up as I neared the front only to be severly deflated by the linguering, prising hands of an overly thorough security woman, showing a little too much interest in my upper body anatomy. “Nothing explosive in there” I declared helpless to the grappling.

Then as though transcending through light itself we immerged through the first archway to gain or first precious glimpse of this stunning monument. As far as tombs go this is pretty impressive! The roles royce of graves and a nod to opulent romance til death do us part.2016-03-20 07.31.402016-03-20 07.21.46We spent the morning allowing the Taj Mahal’s pristine white surface to seduce us. Showered by soft yellow light and adorned with beautiful architectural detailing and inscriptions the feminine curves and recesses calmed and soothed any previous ill-temper.  Here in this building perhaps, is enough majesty and devine order to balance the external chaos that is India.  There is such a stark difference between the symbol of India and the workings of India, but then it’s this diversity of polar extremes which intoxicates us and keeps us seeking.20160319_14503020160319_145251

Delhi…rious

20160320_03100220160318_111415-1The chaotic roads and frenetic manner in which Delhi conducts life is all at once awakening.  It’s quite startling to be immersed suddenly into Delhi, something a kin to a centrifuge of colour and noise flying at high speed towards you. The last time I arrived in India the screaming gaggle of taxi and rickshaw drivers was overwhelmingly bamboozelling, this time round however a sedate, clean airport and a shiney metro system greeted me sweetly.20160319_140422-1The flavour of India didn’t hit me until I reached the train station.  As a traffic jam of bicycles, motorbikes, cars, vibrant green and yellow rickshaws, a myriad of hawkers and people, mobile fruit stalls as well as an obligatory herd of goats met me as I gingerly stepped amongst the collision of life to get down the Asif Ali road where the Stops hostel resides. Stepping over bodies languishing on the street, canine and human, I crossed a mound of rubble and darted into the sanctuary of the hostel vowing to never go outside again!20160316_23214320160315_145811A nights sleep healed the mild agoraphobia that was developing and out again into the swarm I went.  I know I’m white but do I glow?20160320_025504 The disbelief upon the warm caramel faces around me is quite unnerving especially walking amongst the filth and dust of Delhi’s old quarter at night.20160319_20383520160316_225440At least the arrival of fresh blood in the form of Colette has given the kamakazi mosquitos something else to get their teeth into. She’s depleting by at least a pint of blood I reckon….perhaps accounting for her fixed look of shock?20160320_04001120160318_12550320160318_16034120160319_134826In a trance like state, weakened from blood loss she staggered into the rickshaw and we headed out accompanied by Rowena a new acquaintance to brave a wave of horn blasts, monoxide poisoning and the terror of oncoming traffic in a bid to view the sites of Delhi.20160318_11102920160318_14334220160318_140226 20160318_13572920160318_11382420160318_134527We were all quite Delhi-rious, sweated and overwhelmed by the sheer white knuckle ride we endured. Our travel insurance is on the brink of becomning nul and void and certainly would have been torn up in our startled faces if the little grey suit wearing insurance man ever clapped eyes upon the amount of chillies in our evening banquet of hot or rather super hot stews. If the roads don’t get you it’s likely that a dissolving digestive system certain will. Next stop Agra on the 6am express train….20160318_174110-120160318_174415-1

 

 

 

Hong Kong-Go

20160311_184509I can’t fully articulate how wonderful it was to reach Hong Kong.  First of all we had some extreme turbulence.  The type that has people glancing nervously towards the windows and gripping their arm rests with a sudden strength they didnt know they had and in some cases making quiet internal prayers to whichever heavenly diety floats their boat or plane in this case.  We seemed to suddenly burst free of cloud cover and land all at once on a thin strip of reclaimed land jutting out of the sea. “Welcome to Hong Kong” the stewardess gingerly announced to a lite smattering of claps. The second welcoming fact is that the pavement here seems to exist soley for pedestrians, combined with the civilised notion  that it’s better for all if you dont urinate, spit, throw bone or muscle sinew or generally pour egg, water and God knows what other liquids, about these sacred spaces.  Yes I suppose it was very welcomed to arrive in a gloriously sanatised environment, not least for my corroded mental state, having endured some quite incredible violations of cleanliness and civilised order in Vietnam.  Don’t get me wrong I thoroughly enjoyed the liberation of Vietnam but I did feel like getting down on my hands and knees and kissing the Hong Kong Terra Mundus (clean earth?).20160312_081508In fairness it’s an ecclectic, youthful city with more designer shops than my cowering purse can handle and with countless, sleek skyscrapers to rival New York; a city of markets, aromatic aromas and delightful food lurks amongst Hong Kong’s glittering skyline and quirky irregular back streets.2016-03-12 13.20.4820160312_19495720160312_125323Visiting Hollywood Street and the surrounding area with it’s many art and antique boutiques showed a bohemian, cultural cool side to this metropolis. Just a few streets away from the main drag we found ourselves visiting the very atmospheric and smokey ‘Man Mo’ temple, evidencing a deeply spiritual and superstitious side to the city’s burgeoning population.20160312_12593820160312_125834There’s certainly a colonial influence notable in spoken English, double decker buses, street signs and little gems of architecture but there’s also a pride of traditional culture and an intelligent approach to living in what is essentially a small area. I found myself picked up and hugged by Hong Kong, embracing it with a real love for it’s diversity and exotic beauty.20160312_082652-1Screenshot_2016-03-12-11-20-35-1image-643abede9f0f828772b51185cba97836b417ac52c93a05a2c591df8bd6484f3b-V20160312_082844The wonderful harbour looked great from the high vantage point of Victoria Peak but I think I’ve enjoyed traversing the city far more on its incredibly cheap public transport, a firm favorite being the iconic Star ferry and the slim rickety trams that transport you east, west and back in time.20160311_185117The ‘Peak tram’ which makes the gravity defying ascent up to Victoria Peak was very fun, possibly because getting on board with the hoards of Koreans who were standing as a twitching, salivating mob was like a gladiator death dual.  I could swear someone tried to tear at my coat pulling me out of the way but thankfully with the strength of an angry bull I surged forward securing a seat with a smug grin imagining the 40 tiny Koreans who’d tried to haul me back, now lying flat in a heaped pile on the platform. Okay everyone got on but you’d have reckoned it was life or death minutes before.Screenshot_2016-03-12-11-58-48-1Heading out across the harbour we explored Mong Kok, a feast of people watching, market streets and shopping. There’s markets and then there’s this, with whole streets devoted to the like of goldfish.  An optical theme park!20160312_155755 20160312_154836 20160312_153103There’s lots to do here….I guess I’ll just have to come back and in the meantime try to squeeze in a Sunday trip to Jumbo Kingdom and maybe even a fun jaunt to Disney Land or perhaps one last Giant Buddha (Tian Tan) or simply just an energetic Hong Kong-Go down one of the many lit up dazzling streets. It’s certainly been fun….however I have a demand! The next trip must involve a certain Watson family! Thanks to Tess and Hugh for the foodie advice….I’m like a swollen, lucky Buddha given the edible treats this city has thrown at me. Till next time, farewell Hong Kong.Screenshot_2016-03-11-18-44-36 20160312_13101620160312_131302-1Next stop India and Nepal 😊.

Very Hanoi-ing

20160308_10230320160308_103116-1It was a curious and slightly worrying sight that met me as I returned to my bed after an obligatory morning tinkle. The shirvelled remains of my left ear drum lay expelled in disgust across my pillow, like a shed piece of snake skin, translucent and crisp.20160308_094122-1 20160308_094136-1I’d tried to run and indeed to muffle the noise in Hanoi, pressing my hands hopelessly against my earlobes but unfortunately the piercing screeching and constant blasting of motorbike and car horns combined with the shrill of hawkers and squealing of emergency brakes has led to this unfortunate point. Deaf in one ear and dulled tinitus ringing in the other. As you might imagine this is a tad Hanoi-ing!20160308_120109Okay, so in the real world I’ve still got my two ear drums intact but my faculties are in a somewhat more precarious position, such is the filth and general chaos of this labyrinth of streets and menagery of excited activity. The pavements are strewen with everything from unknown liquids to chewed bones, dead rats and vegetable peelings.vietnam-04-pageDodging and walking amongst this takes nimble footing and a strong stomach. Then there’s the millions of parked mopeds and people eating, almost submerged in the waste on miniture seats, forcing all who dare to walk to navigate around them, which inevitably leads you to steer out onto the narrow roads in search of a clear path only to be rushed at from all angles by bikes, cars, motorbikes, people,dogs…….And don’t be surprised if a large push cart full of squaking chickens, cardboard boxes, a mattress and a couple of gas canisters driven by an unseen assailant makes a determined effort upon your life. The streets here are most certainly not paved with gold but given a handful of vallium I’m sure they’d be managable…..maybe. There’s a great number of cafes and local eateries but to be honest something keeps putting me off. I think it’s the feng shui?20160308_09394720160308_121944Today though I will succeed.  I will traverse the city with agility like a gazelle chased by a hungry Cheeta. Saving my sanity from further assault with a speedy course direct to the Indian Embassy.  Today I will triumph over all odds and retrieve a visa! Yes you heard right; the illusive and highly prized article, the holy grail of travellers, the absolutely must have it or I’ll cry – the humble bit of paper that is the tourist visa. I’ve prayed considerably.20160309_123908 The tourist visa for India is not an easy prize to come by and I half imagine the smiling receptionist to grin manically while informing me in a tuneful accent that “I’m sorry Madam, no entry to Indian this time.”Screenshot_2016-03-09-13-37-42-1The two lethargic Oxen powering the Indian Embassy’s online application system had better step on it and shit out a nice, shiny visa or I’m gonna have to follow in the footsteps of many a Buddhist Monk and self-immolate on the spot. Yes it’s extreme, admittedly, but I’ve been driven to the edge and may yet end up a charred remain….With any luck their plush gold embroidered curtains might go up like dry tinder as I flail and blaze about their office, resulting in the whole place burning brightly.  Guy Fox eat you’re heart out and then throw the chewy bits across the pavement like any good respectable local. Fingers crossed the visa comes through! How very Hanoi-ing!20160308_09574420160308_103805