Thursday, 23 July 2009

Day 5: Pacamayo - Winay Wayna

Our last full day's hiking began shortly after 5.30am, on a cold Andean morning above the Pacamayo river.  Joe had slept the night through, and the cheerful porters were greeting us all with bowls of hot water for washing in, and mugs of Coca tea.

But it was mornings like this that brought home where we were, and why we were doing it.  Sometimes at the end of the day when your knees were screaming and you were hiking the last few miles to camp in rapidly fading light, it was easy to forget.  Then you wake up the next morning with views of cloud-filled valleys, and you wonder why you don't do this kind of thing more often.  Day three of proper hiking along the Inca trail promised lots more ruins, more altitude, and more cloud forest.

About a kilometre along the trail from the campsite, and a climb of about 150m we came to the first set of ruins of the day, the remains of Runkuraqay -- at an altitude of approximately 3750m.

Discovered by the explorer Hiram Bingham, who was searching for Machu Picchu, like much of the Incan architecture the purpose of the tambo aren't entirely clear.  While some historians claim it was a lookout post for the trail, others have said it was a guard house, a grain store or even a llama corral.

From here the hike just kep going up -- and like the previous day, the air was thin, the trail was steep and the going was slow.  While we knew we were going up to 4,000m again, we'd spent the night at altitude and so hadn't nearly as far to go this time -- instead we had almost all of the rest of the day downhill.

And so from the highest point of the day, it was another 400m descent down to the town of Sayaqmarka.  Reached only by a steep, narrow staircase Sayaqmarka can be translated as "inaccesible town".

Having spent the best part of the day so far not actually at the back of the group, I decided to forego a brief side trip up to the ruins of Sayaqmarka and instead press on ahead.  There was still a lot of hiking to be done, and I had some foolish notion that I might possibly be able to get back before nightfall without being eaten by a puma.  Though I expect for many it would be an honour to be eaten by such a revered animal, I figured that could at least wait until after Machu Picchu.

Speaking of Machu Picchu, I had come this far now and was now reassured in myself that I wouldn't have to abandon the trail with one of the group leaders and instead take the train to the lost city.  In some of my darker moments the day before I had reassured myself that it would still be an adventure, even if that was the worst case scenario.  But it wasn't me being carried up to Dead Woman's Pass in a papoose, or giving the porters a fright by keeling over at the top.  So, surely, if I had come this far then I would just keep going?  The worst of the uphill was behind me, and we were at such a point that returning were as tedious as to go o'er.

As the day wore on, the trail levelled out and widened -- giving us fine views and occasional patches of cloud forest.  The third pass was reached easily after passing through an Inca tunnel in the rock.  I can't be sure exactly when it was in the day, but it must have been about around this time that one of my fellow trekkers had a small mishap with some strong pharmaceutical painkillers.

For reasons of her own, one of the trek doctors had given her two of these tablets, and she'd been instructed to take them something like four hours apart.  I can be fairly clear about these instructions, since I'd been given some myself -- but never felt the need to resort to those on top of what I was already taking.  Many of you can probably guess what happened next -- it got to halfway through the day, and Yvonne realised she had forgotten to take one of the tablets earlier.  Maybe she was feeling particularly sore, and that was what reminded her, but she obviously figured that she would need to "catch up" on what she had missed, and took them both at once.

Yvonne later told us that she didn't realise this was a mistake until some time later.  We were at the top of a particularly steep climb, everyone was getting their breath back, and Yvonne noticed how the colours on all the plants seemed so unusually vivid, and thought to herself that she hadn't known that was a symptom of altitude sickness.  Then she remembered the tablets she had taken, and realised all was not well.  Before long, she was giggling like an addict in the depths of an ether binge, and was unable to walk any distance completely unaided.

Luckily for everyone involved, Yvonne needed nothing more than one of the group leaders to support her as she walked and to keep an eye on her -- no permanent damage was going to have been done, she just needed supervision and assistance.

On route to the last night's camp we passed above the ruins of Phuyupatmarka (meaning Cloud-Level Town), a complex structure of protection walls and paths built on the uppermost side of a high hill.  It's a sad state of affairs when by this point it is almost getting to a point where this elaborate Inca architecture is starting to seem normal.  It never becomes boring or uninteresting, but after a while you start to expect it -- and know you are getting closer to the final day.

Before you can get to the final day, though, if you are like me you will spend most of the last hour of walking actually hiking in complete darkness with only a headtorch for light. While I wasn't alone and the camp wasn't far away, it was still not advisable to be walking the trails in the dark.  For me, it just added to the adventure -- but I still didn't want to get eaten by any wild animals.

The campsite of Winay Wayna was completely different to the previous two nights.  For a start it had toilets and showers -- real toilets and real showers, that weren't in tents.  It also had a dining hall, a kind of off-licence and a small shop that sold the tokens you needed to buy beer.  Most of the others had already been back at the camp for an hour or two already by this point, and had got on the beers without delay. Even Joe, who had made a lazarus-like recovery.

To celebrate the end of the camping, that evening there was a formal meal at real tables and everything -- but for many of us, that was where the celebrations would stay, because the next day was the final hike to the lost city of Machu Picchu.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Day 4: The Inca Trail, Wayllabamba to Pacamayo

ascent through cloud forestAfter a restless night disturbed by tentmate Joe's frequent and noisy vomiting, we started the second proper day of walking with the knowledge that this would be perhaps the hardest thing many of us had ever done -- and possibly the hardest thing we would ever do.

We had camped overnight at an altitude of 2700m at a place called Wayllabamba, which in the Peruvian Quechan language means "grassy plain". Both of these are quite safe, reassuring facts that you take comfort in on the trail. The altitude is low (although that is still double the height of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles), and the name tells you how it's nice and flat. This contrasted with the focal point of the day: Dead Woman's Pass, standing at an altitude of 4200m, over three times the height of Ben Nevis and nearly four times the height of Snowdon*.

It wasn't long before the ascending trail took us up through what is referred to as "cloud forest", where the forests are persistently misty -- this made it cooler for the uphill hike, but the altitude was still tough. Joe hadn't recovered from the night before, and was struggling to continue going since he couldn't even keep water down. We were lucky that it stayed dry for us, since this part of the trail had a reputation for being hard going when it got muddy as well as steep.

I remember one stop we made for a rest and water, which really symbolised the contrast of the traditional Peruvian society and the "modern world". We stopped to regroup and rest, and a few feet away, under a tree sat two Peruvian women in traditional dress, with their donkey. And a table selling bottle water, Coke, chocolate, Powerade and various other delicacies. Every now and then the donkey would wander closer to one of the women, and she'd hit it with a stick. I got the impression the woman was telling the donkey to go away, but maybe it was the other way round -- the donkey enjoyed it, and every now and then just had an urge to be hit with a stick again, whereupon the old lady would oblige.

Lunch a couple of hours later was a beautiful lush valley, with views of snow-capped peaks and the heights of Dead Woman's Pass lying ahead of us. Joe was in a bad way. He was dehydrated and weak, from being unable to keep anything down but still being determined to keep going. I think the trail and the long months of preparation did that to you: giving up was not an option. If I thought I had things bad with dodgy knees and a bad foot, Joe had to be put on an intravenous drip in a tent.

When I arrived at the lunch stop true to form our team of trusty porters had already erected the three group dining tents for us, as well as the cooking tents and done all the cooking -- and there was still a few minutes to go before meal time. Most others had been there a while longer than me, but I was perpetually slow. It's now such a bad way to take the trail, you get the opportunity to take in all the sights around you -- which never have the chance to become familiar or run of the mill.

I encouraged a fellow trekker to venture in to one of the surrounding fields where llamas (or maybe alpacas, I can't tell the difference) were peacefully grazing. I had been tasked by Ali to hug a llama for her, and I was determines to meet my obligations, and have a photo taken to prove it. Unfortunately, the llamas had other ideas about this. They might be big. And smelly. But they are also still timid of people, and weren't keen on the idea of being hugged by someone who hadn't showered in a couple of days. I settled for a photo near a llama instead, though I won't post it since it's not a very flattering picture -- and I don't look a whole heap better.

Lunch was packed with carbs -- the now-usual selection of dishes ranging between soup, chicken, white rice and traditional Peruvian dishes. It was delicious, and best of all plentiful -- and we needed it, since Dead Woman's Pass still lay several hours ahead and several thousand meters above us.

After lunch the trail got steeper and relentless, there was often barely enough room for two people to walk side by side, when there would come up the mountain a shout of "Porters!". Everyone would move to one side to let these Peruvian supermen past -- with port-a-loos and stoves on their backs and nothing more than sandals on their feet.

The altitude made the trek hard going. We'd be able to walk no more than a few minutes before having to stop to catch our breath -- the thing about altitude was that the air literally did feel thinner, you could take long, deep breaths but the air just didn't go so far. Your heart would pound, your head would thump, and you just had to stop and let everything settle -- no amount of eagerness or speed would get you up the mountain any faster.

With the altitude came the cloud, and once we reached Dead Woman's Pass (so-called because it is said to resemble a dead woman lying on her back, with the view of two mountainous peaks resembling breasts) it got cold very quickly. We all assembled together to appreciate what would be the highest -- although not necessarily the hardest -- point of our trip. The views were limited by the cloud around and below us, and strangely reminded me of Dartmoor -- probably because of the cloud/fog, rock and desolate landscape. On many of the surrounding hills were small piles of stones, not unlike the cairns found in the British Isles -- they were apparently expressions of wishes by Quechan travellers, who would return and add another stone to the top of the pile when their wish came true.

Getting to the top of Dead Woman's Pass was only half the battle -- there was still a 500m descent to camp to go. While the ascent was hard-going because of the altitude and steep climb, descending is often just as hard, and the relentless steps are torture on your knees -- and like with the ascent, you can't speed up, even if you want to, and know you are against the clock to get into camp before dark.

The second night camping was in the Pacamayo (or "sunrise") valley, where instead the sun was quickly setting. My tentmate Joe (who had been carried at one point on the steepest part of the trail uphill) was already in the tent and his sleeping bag and fell sound asleep almost as soon as I got back. After a hard day, many of us were a lot more tired than the night before and went to sleep right after dinner.

The next day was promised by some to be the hardest, with another very early start.

*Readers outside of the UK: please feel free to chip in with how this compares with mountains you are more familiar with -- I appreciate the UK isn't known for its mountainous terrain.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Day 3 KM 82 - Wayllabamba

I suck at updating the "travel blog" section here, I apologise profusely to anyone left reading! However, in a gesture of goodwill I have found my paper journal and gone back to the earlier posts and added in the scribbles.

Day three started early, with an alarm call at 4.30am. My phone shows a text sent at 5.37 to the girl, just before we were leaving the hotel. I'd already been up for an hour, and it was another hour before sunrise.

This was to be day one of the proper trail: no more hotel beds, no gentle walks across countryside, instead we were going to be camping in the mountains with no mobile reception for three days. The next time anyone heard from me would be after Machu Picchu, whether I made it on foot or not. We piled into two coaches for the 3-hour drive to the start of the trail, known as "KM 82".

I slept a lot of the journey, and woke up shortly before we stopped in a town called Ollantaytambo. The town itself was still waking up, but the people eager to sell to the tourists were already up and waiting -- people selling scarves and hats and walking poles and any number of things. The walking poles were beautifully carved and painted, I started to wish I hadn't brought my hiking poles from home with me -- but I'd needed my poles for all the walks back in England, and they were adjustable to different heights, making them suitable for both uphill and downhill, which you couldn't get with the wooden ones.

We spread out through the town square, some people were buying agua de florida -- a kind of cologne that you splash on your hands, clap together and then inhale deeply, which was meant to help with altitude sickness. I was more interested in finding a scarf, less for the cold nights and more for protecting my neck from the sun, it was something I'd forgotten to take along. I walked from one traditional shop to the other, giving a bueans dias to the shop keepers and just smiling politely if they tried to make any further conversation. In each shop there would be shelves from floor to ceiling with ponchos and sweaters, blankets and scarves. I found a scarf I liked and bargained, although only briefly, with the shopkeeper for a good price.

It was still early and so still cold in the town. I was wearing my beanie hat for warmth, and my wide-brimmed hat on top of it as much for convenience as anything else. Occasionally, someone would stop me and try to sell me a hat. I knew they couldn't speak English, but just the same my response was always the same: I'm already wearing two hats, do I look like I need a third? I think they understood the gist of it, even if not the exact words.

Seemingly out of nowhere, a parade appeared. There was men banging drums and playing trumpets, and most disturbing lots of men in scary-looking masks that resembled devils. They marched through the town holding their banner and banging their drum and then they were gone again. We never did find out what it had all been about -- none of the locals seemed to pay any attention to it -- but apparently the masks date back to the time of the conquistadors. We were told that the conquistadors had forbidden any traditional celebrations, and so people wore these masks to hide their identities.

Soon, we all piled back into our coaches for the rest of the journey to the check point at the start of the trail.

The Peruvian authorities are very cautious now about protecting the Inca trail, so numbers of people walking it are very tightly controlled and all groups have to be authorised. It wasn't enough to just be a registered group saying how many people you were taking on the trail -- everyone was listed by name, and had to provide their passports at the check point so they could cross-reference the names on the list with the names and pictures. You did get a stamp in the passport for it, though.

The train to Machu Picchu runs alongside KM 82, and everyone turned their noses up at the idea of being "a tourist" and just riding the train to the lost city -- where is the challenge in that, where is the adventure if you haven't hiked for days to reach the goal? Just the same, I think all of us felt just a little, tiny bit jealous. Nobody there would have chosen the train, even if given the option at the last minute -- it was about the trail for us, not just the destination -- but seeing it there made you stop and think about what lay ahead.

This first day of walking was still, by the trail's standards, gentle. We crossed the Urubamba river and followed alongside it for several hours, until lunch. The rest of the day was a steady climb, looking down on terraced hillsides and the ruins of Patallacta.

I spent most of the day at the back of the group, as you might expect from my injury so was one of the last to arrive at the camp. At camp in Wayllabamba, the porters had put up all the tents for the group -- neatly separated into the three sub groups, named Condor, Puma and Pachamama. Not only this, but they were already busy preparing the evening feast, and had set up the three communal tents with hot drinks and bowls of popcorn.

As was to become the standard, the evening meal was a carb-loaded three courses, starting with bowls of soup, before offering plates of white rice and chicken and potatoes alongside more traditional dishes and vegetarian options. After the early start and first day of walking, we all went to our tents fairly soon after dinner -- besides as soon as the sun went down at 6pm it became very cold in the mountains, and I was glad for my poncho. The group leaders laughed at it, but I was warm and that was what mattered. It also made a very good improvised pillow for sleeping in the tent.

The sleeping tents we all shared with a tent mate, who had been previously assigned as our hotel room mates, too. I got a young guy called Joe who was a musician. He was nice enough, but strangely reminded me a lot of someone I had gone to school with -- except almost ten years younger than we are now. It wasn't long that we were in the tent that Joe mentioned not feeling great. I told him he'd probably feel better after a trip to the toilet -- that I'd felt a bit off colour myself for a little while earlier, and it would be OK.

And so it was that our first night camping in the mountains of Peru was punctuated by Joe frequently getting up to loudly vomit outside our tent. If he wasn't actually being sick he would be asking me what I thought he should do, should he see the doctor again or just leave it. After my initial mis-diagnosis, I generally told him that he should let them know. He'd see them, get a shot or some tablets or whatever, then go back to bed, only for the whole thing to repeat again. It went on all night, and I genuinely felt more sorry for him than I did feel any annoyance at not getting sleep. We'd been advised before we went to bed that if you needed to get up in the night to unzip the tent and leave it open until you returned: that way the whole camp wouldn't be kept awake by the zip-zip, zip-zip of you opening it, and closing it and the zip-zip, zip-zip when you returned again. Nobody needed to worry about that when there was a guy being very loudly sick in the camp.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Day 2 -- Sacsayhuamán

"Sunday, May 31
6.30am: Sunrise over the mountains, and I'd forgotten what an amazing sight that is. Today is an acclimatisation walk, we're being taken up to about 3500m and then walking back.

I admit here to being concerned about my foot, the doctor back thinks it could be weeks before it is better. I don't even want to think about the possibility of not being able to walk."

Our first real day in Peru started just before sunrise. It was already light outside, but when the sun reached over the mountains I remembered why I love this kind of country so much. We don't have mountains in England, not a single one, so the best you can hope for is either hills or when the sun comes up over the buildings, which doesn't have the same sort of feel to it.

Cusco was starting to wake up, like a big cat stretching and yawning. The hotel provided us with breakfast, which incorporated fruit juices, fresh fruit, yoghurt, scrambled eggs, and various bread products. A feature of the trip as a whole was large meals -- loading up on the carbs and the calories, since you'd be needing all that you could get.

We were bussed up into the foothills of the mountains to start our first day's walking -- it wasn't part of the trail itself, just an opportunity to get used to being at altitude and warm up a little for the walking we had ahead over the coming days. We started at a ruin called Tambo Machay -- whose original purpose remains unknown, although it has been speculated it served as a place to guard the approaches to Cusco. Because of the Incas lack of a written language, many things about them are open to speculation -- including their architecture. Just the same, the structures with its canals and aqueducts remained impressive.

From Tambo Machay we set off walking across country, and other than the altitude it was no more strenuous than many walks in England. It was particularly surreal to be walking through plains and fields and seeing football pitches off to the side, before remembering how popular the sport is in South America.

While the walking wasn't hard, my foot was still painful. It had been several days since I'd hurt it, and although I was better able to put my weight on it and was taking a lot of pain killers it was still slow and difficult going at times, and put undue strain on my opposite knee. Just the same, although it bothered me, it still wasn't anything that was likely to stop me altogether.

At times, we passed through towns in the mountains -- basic stone houses where people lived their simple and quiet lives. Until the native children would see you, then suddenly there would be a dozen, barely-dressed children surrounding you, holding out their hands for money. We were told not to give them anything -- the Peruvians are proud people, and don't want their children growing up to be dependant on begging and handouts. We were especially told not to give them sweets, since they had no system of dental care.

I think our Macmillan guide Sarah described the children best as incredibly sweet, but so dirty. They were clever though, so often they would appear with a cute baby animal -- usually a lamb -- and try to entice you to take pictures, which they would then want money for. Fortunately, none of our group was taken in by this.

The next ruin we came to was Sacsayhuamán, referred to by the Peruvian guides as "sexy woman". The site appeared to be a kind of fortress, and with the city of Cusco forms the head and body of a Puma. What is truly impressive about Sacsayhuamán was the sheer scale of it -- from pictures, it looks like any other pile of stones that was once a fort. But some of the stones weigh as much as 200 tonnes, more than twice as tall as me, and are larger than I can comprehend. As with places like Stonehenge and the Pyramids of Egypt, it's amazing and much debated how these huge blocks of stone with rounded corners and interlocking edges were carved, transported across great distances and assembled. The fortress was also assembled with all the walls leaning at a slight angle to help protect it against earthquake. Clever chaps, those Incas -- although much of their cleverness lay in borrowing ideas from older cultures.

From Sacsayhuamán, it seemed like the rest of the day was one long descent into Cusco -- albeit on well maintained stone steps, and while I wasn't exhausted by the day, the altitude left me feeling worn out and I was walking very badly by the time we eventually made it to the city's outskirts.

As mentioned, this wasn't even part of the trek itself -- just a gentle warm up and a day trip to some historic sites, we wouldn't ever have it this easy again.

Back at the hotel the order of the day was just dinner and bed, since Monday promised a very early start, and the beginning of the hiking itself.

"6.35pm: After a gentle day's walking to get used to the altitude, my knee hurts and, of course, my foot hurts. The doctors are openly concerned about it, I see them exchange looks, but everyone is very friendly and nice and supportive. I just keep saying I will do whatever it takes to make it through.

Sacsayhuamán was amazing. The huge stone blocks were so perfectly carved, the hills and mountains all looked more like a picture than actually real.

What lies ahead is honestly scaring me. I think everyone feels the same way."

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Day 1 -- Cusco

After much delay (it's been two weeks now since Machu Picchu), I begin a series of posts about the Inca Trail. As always, my travel writings go under the working title of "Stay out of circulation til the dogs get tired".

Day 1 -- Cusco

"Saturday, May 30
After almost 24 hours since I got to Heathrow, I am in Cusco. I feel fuzzy with the altitude, but mostly ok -- and though my foot does worry me, I have to now try not to get too worried. It is bright, warm and sunny, and the air is filled with traffic noise and car horns.

Peru is a dusty brown colour, with dark green trees. The earth-toned buildings look like they are part of the landscape, almost as if they just grew here, instead of being made.

[later]The city doesn't seem to ever slow down. It's now 6pm, and dark, but the city still rumbles on.

We arrived in Lima in that dazed, half-awake, half-asleep state that comes with long-haul flying. I spend most of my time travelling in this kind of waking-sleep state, due to my ability to fall asleep in almost any moving vehicle. Aeroplanes used to be a kind of exception to this -- mostly because you don't really notice you are moving -- but I happily slept almost the whole journey from London to New York, and then New York to Lima.

What had been billed as a long stop-over in New York instead became a rush across the airport -- we'd been late taking off from Heathrow, and by the time we got to New York they were holding our plane for us.

Stepping off the plane in Lima, we were met by what appeared to be a doctor and a nurse wearing surgical masks, giving out information on swine flu. Despite the virus starting in Central America, many South American countries are still largely unaffected -- Peru for example has only a handful of cases, compared to those in the United Kingdom. I imagine swine flu would be a lot more dangerous in a third world country like Peru, so their precautions weren't overzealous -- but it was a disturbing sight to be met with.

Unfortunately, out of the 50 or so of us travelling together for Macmillan, only about 10 bags made the journey from New York. Because of how delayed we had been, there hadn't been time to load many bags -- and a lot of people had only the clothes they were standing in. On the other hand, I always pack under the assumption that my bag is likely to be lost somewhere and include a change of clothes in my hand luggage.

The less said about Lima, the better. We didn't see anything of the city, but from all the accounts I've heard that's for the best. After filling out forms about our lost bags, we hopped on a short flight to Cusco, where I promptly went back to sleep and woke up only as we were landing.

Cusco -- the cultural capital of Peru, and the former capital of the Inca empire -- was vibrant, full of colours and people and noise and life. We were staying in the Savoy hotel, which our guides had gone to some pains to point out was not to the same standard as the Savoy in London. Part of the hotel was closed due to building work, and apparently it was something of a lottery if the showers worked. My shower worked -- sort of -- but the room was clean and the beds were large and comfortable. That was good enough for me.

After dropping our bags and a meal at the hotel, our hardy band of adventurers set out into the city. Along the roads were markets where local people sold their wares to tourists -- ponchos, blankets, carvings. Each stall holder would call out "Hola, amigo" and try to entice you over. I deliberated for a long time before buying a poncho myself, but I figured it would come in useful at nights on the Inca trail. Half the fun in buying anything was bartering with the seller for a good price. Everything was a good price to begin with, the Peruvian Sol was about three to the Dollar, and with almost two Dollars to the Pound, nothing was too expensive. Just the same, I'd ask how much it was, mentally convert it, and then try and get them to knock about another ten off the price.

In Cusco it seemed there was always some kind of a parade going on, without explanation and without anyone paying too much attention. Maybe it was a special weekend.

In the evening, the Discover Adventure guides took us to a local restaurant for a chance to sample some Peruvian cuisine. Even though the restaurant was run by a Scotsman called Dougie. I turned away the chance to eat guinea pig when it was presented to us, since the creature still had paws. Had it been served as just sliced meat, I might have been willing to perhaps consider giving it a try -- but when it still looked like someone's pet, I wasn't keen. In fact, I don't think I tried anything Peruvian that night since the buffet also included a couple of chinese style dishes. I just wasn't in that kind of place where I wanted to be eating something unknown, when we'd be spending the next few nights camping, without proper toilets or showers. What did catch my interest was when I discovered the owner of the bar also ran an adventure sports company, and he offered me the chance to go mountain biking on the last day in Cusco.

I turned down the chance to go drinking after the meal -- although I wasn't feeling too bad for the altitude, it was a fairly early start the next day to go on an "acclimatisation walk" in the foothills, and I wanted a clear head for it.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

I did it


Through 4 days of walking on bruised and blistered feet, I made it to the lost city of Machu Picchu and what an experience it was! Many thanks to Amanda who updated the group here for me while I was away :)

I fell down the stairs at home just two days before I was due to go away, but despite it all I kept going and saw it all; snow capped mountains, steep stone staircases, cloud forests and Dead Woman's Pass at 4,200m -- it was all quite inspiring. Chelmsford doesn't seem quite the same after the vibrancy of Cusco and the mountain passes of the Andes.

At the moment, my fundraising is only a few quid shy of £4,000, and I expect to break that when I call in a few promised sponsorships. If anyone had been thinking about donating but wanted to see if I could manage it first, now is your chance to make that contribution.

I'm still updating and captioning photos -- the link below should take you to a slideshow of the pictures on Flickr, so keep checking back to see if there is anything new. Proper blog posts about the trip itself are coming soon, I promise.

Thank all of you again for your help and support, it meant a lot to me and kept me going when things were tough.

So here's to all of you for your support, here's to Peru, and here's to starting to think about what the next challenge can be!

Thursday, 28 May 2009

The Big Push

This is it -- I leave tomorrow. No amount of training walks, gym sessions, or voodoo can help me now, in less than 24 hours I will be on a plane bound for Peru.

I need to give special thanks to everyone who has donated recently, I owe all of you a huge thank you for your support, you all know what a difference your money can make to Macmillan, and I am endlessly grateful.

So here we go. Your next update from me will be in just over 10 days' time, when I return -- which is probably a shorter time than usual between updates.

Thank you to everyone who has come here to show me your support, and a thousand thank yous to everyone who has donated their hard-earned money. My total so far is currently standing at £3,880, so there's less than £150 to go before we hit the big £4k. Anyone that wants to take this time to push it that bit closer, please feel free.

On the trail -- along with before and after -- I'll be keeping a journal and dutifully snapping pictures, so I hope to have something to reward you all with on my return.

Thanks again -- and see you soon!