#25 Days 1-2: Kathmandu, Nepal

Monday 27 & Tuesday 28 March 2017

Days 1 & 2 were really one loooooong day as I’ve not actually slept since starting my journey … I will hopefully get some sleep after writing this post! A big thanks to Tim (husband of Halifax ex-boss Lorraine) who got me to the airport on time. Everything went smoothly, although I seemed to be sitting in the crèche area of the plane on the leg to Abu Dhabi as there were at least four families, with multiple children (one man apparently had three wives with him!), who were throwing constant tantrums at the start so it didn’t bode well. They actually they calmed down eventually but this young woman, sitting on the opposite side of the plane, preceded to talk really loudly for the whole journey and annoyed quite a few people, but of course we were all too polite to ask her to put a sock in it …

I was sitting next to a lovely couple going off on their honeymoon, they said they were flying onto Mali and then staying on an island nearby. I thought it a bit of a strange place to go for a honeymoon as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office advise against all travel to Mali unless it’s essential, so I made a quip about avoiding pirates to which they politely smiled. We were starting our descent when I decided to ask them a bit more about where they were going, as I was a bit worried for them, and it turns out they were flying to Malé – in the Maldives! Trust me to know all the weird and wonderful places; they’d never heard of Mali and the Maldives is probably somewhere I’ll never go so had never heard of Malé International!! We had a little chuckle as we got off the plane in Abu Dhabi and said goodbye.

After breezing through arrivals in Kathmandu (I’m glad I got that visa in advance) I found my ride. And what a ride it was! It was the smallest, most rickety car I’ve seen in a very long time. It would not have passed its MOT in 1997, let alone 2017, and I opted for the front seat when I realised that the back door didn’t close properly and there was no seatbelt! The problem with sitting up front is that my life flashed before my eyes on numerous occasions as we proceeded on a hair-raising trip in a city of traffic mayhem. My driver was amazing, dodging mopeds, trucks and pedestrians with ease. We almost had two collisions where cars bigger than us decided to make a kamikaze move and pull out in front of us with absolutely no warning, and he did a great manoeuvre overtaking a whole load of motorbikes, which put us on the wrong side of the road, which then bought us head to head with a massive truck as it swung round the corner! All he did was edge into the bikes and they moved over and we squeezed past.

I previously mentioned that we bought a van in India, and I used to drive it sometimes. The rule of the road in India, and it appears here, is that the bigger you are the more right of way you have – so pedestrians give way to bikes, who give way to cars, who give way to vans, who give way to tractors (yes, I have photographic evidence!), who … you get the picture. As long as everyone plays by the same rules it all works. I forgot that in Asia (and probably other places) when you overtake, or plan to overtake, you have to sound your horn so the swerving and emergency stops are accompanied by a constant cacophony of a multitude of different horn sounds; using the roads is not for the faint hearted! To be honest I quite enjoyed it, I was feeling really tired when I got off the plane from Abu Dhabi but I suddenly got my second wind and felt the excitement I always feel when I land in a mad place where everything is organised chaos.

By the time we entered Boudha, where I’m staying for a few days, I realised just why the car was so rickety; the roads are really terrible. There is no point whatsoever in having a new or nice car because the suspension will be shot within a week! I also know why the car was so small – some of the roads are minuscule and overcrowded with all manner of things, so in the end I came to the conclusion I would much rather have had that car and driver than some air-conditioned Ambassador to get me here safe and sound.

By the time I got here it was dusk but I was in an adventurous mood and after getting a hotel card (so I knew the address if I got lost – you know me) I went out for a wander as the neighbourhood felt safe. The guest house had been recommended to me by my friend Federico and I knew he wouldn’t have sent me somewhere dodgy. I walked down the streets, making a mental note of the route back, and a down the road I came across Boudhanath Stupa, the largest stupa in Nepal and the holiest Tibetan Buddhist temple outside Tibet! As it was now getting dark it looked amazing all lit up. The temple is round, and people walk round the wall clockwise, so I joined the throng and did a circuit for luck. You can go in and ascend to the next platform and the next, but I thought I’d save that for tomorrow when it’s daylight. On the pavement where we were walking there were numerous oil lamp stalls, which gave out a massive amount of heat, and to the left shops encircled the whole thing.

After doing the circuit and taking some photos I found a little restaurant up a side road and had penne pasta in a tomato and vegetable sauce for my dinner – very Nepalese!  Made it back to my room, unpacked, and am looking forward to some more exploring tomorrow 🙂

#24 Exciting Everest News!

I’ve received an exciting email to say that Xtreme Everest has received ethical approval to engage in a small number of research studies while on the trek! For those of you who have read this blog from the beginning you may understand what this means, for those of you just joining I’ll give a bit of background.

I am taking part in the Xtreme Everest tenth anniversary trek, ran by Jagged Globe. Ten years ago a research expedition (originally from the UCL Centre for Altitude, Space and Extreme Environment medicine) set out to study how the body works in extreme environments and how people adapt to living at high altitude where oxygen levels are low. They are interested in the effect of low oxygen levels (hypoxia) on human biology and think that by understanding more about this process they may learn how to improve the treatment of critically ill patients who develop hypoxia, and improve mortality rates for these patients.

2007 was the first expedition to Everest, 2009 the second and there was a third in 2013. The people who took part in this research had to go through a variety of tests, and this gave the research team enough data to be able to present their findings in London and to the scientific world. This trek is primarily to present the findings to the Sherpa community and to do some follow up tests with us, the tenth anniversary trekkers!

All the tests will be non-evasive and they will be looking at: altitude sickness; measuring blood pressure, blood oxygen levels and heart function; studying the optic nerve; skin swabs to see what microbes we pick up! and finally there is the option to wear an activity monitor to provide continuous information about heart rate, breathing, sleeping etc.

I’m really excited about this! So far I have been supporting Xtreme Everest by raising money, as they are a charity, but it will be great to actually be part of the research and ultimately provide data that might save lives in the future. Xtreme Everest have done a short article about my trip, and if you would like to make a donation please go to my JustGiving page. Thank you so much to everyone who has donated so far, your support is greatly appreciated.

Tomorrow’s my last day at work … I can’t believe it!

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#23 The final countdown

[This post was written yesterday – Monday 21 March] One week to go, I can’t believe it! This time next week I will be at Heathrow Airport wondering if I’ve packed everything I need, and probably feeling at a bit of a loss about what to do with myself now that all the planning is over and I’m finally on my way. Last night I did my ‘practice pack’ and was not impressed that my rucksack weighed about 14kg. I’m going to have to review the clothing allowance I think …

On Sunday I did my last big walk, I saw in Book Club Gill’s book a 5 hour affair that was about 25mins drive away. Every month or so I meet up with my flute trio, Carl and Joanne, and we have a nice afternoon blowing through various pieces. Once in a blue moon Carl invites me to play quartets, which involves a drive down to Andrew’s house for a fun 3 or 4 hours playing with a nice lunch in the middle. The last time I was down there Andrew’s wife, Sheila, had lent me a cake tin as I was baking a cake for my pool friends (x3) who all have their birthdays in April (it’s become a tradition and each year I try do out-do my last effort – I’ll explain about my pool friends and our infamous trip to Ibiza another time) and I had still not given it back! Andrew and Sheila live in the same town as the walk so I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone.

I duly arrived at their house and out of the blue Andrew asked if I wanted some company as Sheila had driven off to London to play at the Albert Hall, and he had missed his usually Sunday walking group walk on account of having no car. This was a nice surprise, as the walk was fairly long (12 miles) and by its own admission; “desolate”. Also, I’ve not been very successful at navigating using this particular guide book so while I was very happy to be having a walking partner I was also secretly relieved that I wouldn’t have to find my way as he knew the route! This was the longest walk I’ve done and it was really enjoyable walking with Andrew, who was a treasure trove of information about the local area – we even went on a bit of a detour on the way back to visit the old gunpowder works.

The day was a bit grey with a really strong wind and much of the route was on and around the marshes by the estuary. While the actual countryside and terrain was nothing like the Himalaya, the constant wind is something I will need to contend with (the buff was brilliant, and that coupled with my hat should keep me relatively warm) so it was good to experience that. I’ve probably not done enough hill training, but I’ve done as much as I could and I’ll just take it slow and steady. It will be different there because we’ll be going from A to B, so I’ll have no choice but to put one foot in front of the other until I get there (and enjoy the amazing scenery and company of my fellow trekkers on the way)!

We had picked up some sandwiches and had a little picnic in the garden of a pub in a picturesque village and set off inland to complete the circuit. Of course, with all of my adventures there is some sort of mishap. We were crossing a field and came across a wet muddy section between us and the gate. Rather than just walking through we decided to do a detour around, which was a really bad idea. The ground became seriously boggy however once we started we had to keep going, in the end I was in so deep that the water went over the tops of my boots! When we got to the other side, Andrew had to take his shoes off and pour out the water that had collected. Luckily we didn’t have that far to go so we only had a couple of miles to squelch home.

So that’s it. My training is done and next time I go on a long walk it will be in Nepal! Wish me luck!!

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#22 The road ahead

Less than two weeks to go; this may be the penultimate post before my travels! Waiting at the traffic lights at the level crossing in my car this morning, my mind drifted off imagining myself in the hustle and bustle of Kathmandu (searching the busy streets for some walking poles, a mattress and my final pair of gloves) with the snow-capped mountains of the Himalaya in the background. During the day in Nepal it should be warm and sunny with temperatures up to the mid-20’s, it will feel like summer! Kind of.

I’ve still not sorted absolutely everything but am definitely getting there, all my handover notes are done: for my dear friend Anne who is covering for me at work; Treasurer’s duties for the orchestra concert I’ll miss in April and Treasurer’s duties plus a set of accounts for the music club at work. All I have to do now is sort the paperwork for myself to take with me, and a summary for my family who will be looking after the house etc. and hopefully trying not to worry too much about me …

I went out for dinner with one of my best friends Jeni and my 15 year old niece Emily at the weekend and we were talking about my six night Airbnb stay in Kyoto, Japan as it’s is probably the only part of my trip that I haven’t organised to the nth degree. I was saying that during that time I wanted to visit Osaka, Kobe, Hiroshima and now Nara (to see the nodding deer) and they were asking when I was going to chill. A good question. I’ve been so preoccupied with trying to squeeze the most out of the trip that I’ve forgotten that this whole thing started because I was feeling restless and needed a bit of time out.

I’ve been seeing a lovely lady called Carol for the last month or so and she has been helping me prepare mentally for this trip. I know I’m only away for three months (97 days actually!), which is no time at all in the grand scheme of things, but it will be life-changing and I will be out of my comfort zone at times and the base camp trek might be the single most challenging thing I’ll ever do in my life. I had some unexpected emotional turmoil last week (nothing to do with my trip) and it reminded me how in order to be happy we have to know what we really want. Hopefully while I’m away I can make time to reflect and think about my life and what I want to do with it when I get back.

Talking of what I want, I want to get fit! I’ve not been able to do any serious training the last few weeks as I’ve been feeling under the weather from the jabs (yellow fever last week, yay, last one) and busy with the final arrangements. I was in contact with Helen and Richard and we decided to go back to the Big Hill (see #13) on Sunday and do a circular walk. It was lovely to see them again, catch up and tackle the hill. We were only walking for about two and a half hours but it was fairly challenging and the good thing was that I didn’t really feel tired and could have probably done the route again with no real issues, so that gives me hope.

I was carrying my new rucksack and had packed it with the things I think I will need to carry on a daily basis so that I could see how heavy it was. I came a bit of a cropper on the Inca Trail as my day sack was just too heavy and I struggled on the first day, so I don’t want to make the same mistake again. Taking my niece home on Saturday evening I was chatting with my sister and her husband Bradley, and he was giving me a bit of grief because I said I wanted to do a pre-pack of my rucksack before I do my ‘proper’ pack. Their friends were also there and they added to the discussion (aka give Liz a hard time) and the whole conversation ended up being hilarious. It did make me question the amount of preparation I am doing – but only for a second. As we used to say in the cadets: Planning and Preparation Prevents P*** Poor Performance, so my mission for this week will be to do my pre-pack!

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#21 The Singapore connection

So my fab cousins in Singapore are going to be around during my brief stop-over between Nepal and Japan and I get to stay with them for a couple of nights (see #10). I’ve been to Singapore a few times but not since they built the Marina Bay Sands hotel, with the iconic boat-shaped ‘SkyPark’ on the top. It will be interesting to see what’s new and relax with Maria, Mark and friends. They are from the Indian branch of the family (my dad’s side) and I don’t get to see them very often.

I first met this part of the family on my first visit to India in the mid-90’s, and as it was a backpacking trip and things were flexible I ended up staying with them for about a month. They lived in Bandra, a suburb of Bombay (sorry, I should say Mumbai), when it still had a ‘village-like’ feel; these days it’s a very fashionable place to live and all the Bollywood stars can be found in the vicinity. I feel very fortunate to have been able to experience living like a local in Bandra at that time. I was travelling with my (now ex-) boyfriend, and after a while a friend of the family allowed us to stay in a ground floor apartment they owned and we used to go to the market every day to barter for our potatoes, carrots, tomatoes and other staples. At that time there were no Westerners around so everyone knew who we were and recognised us and it was very friendly.

The apartment had not yet been furnished so was bare concrete with a room containing a single wooden bed, another room containing a stove with a gas bottle for cooking and another room with a brick built square about waist height and tiled, that you stood inside and filled a bucket with (cold) water from the tap and poured over you to wash. The doors didn’t quite go all the way to the floor so at night the light from the corridor used to shine through. I always remember lying in bed one night and seeing the shadows of the massive rats that used to inhabit the place as they darted here and there. I have never seen such big rats, we used to see dead ones occasionally in the vicinity and no word of a lie they were literally about 8-10” long! You learn to adapt though, and the living conditions didn’t seem too much of a hardship when you went out into the street and saw people sleeping in the gutter on a piece of cardboard or living under a tarpaulin in the slums. In the first world we take our homes, our bathrooms and kitchens for granted and it is easy to forget that millions of people don’t have access to clean water let alone a hot shower.

The reason we were so long in Mumbai was because we decided to buy a van and drive around India all the way to Calcutta (or Kolkata as it’s now known) where I had other family – or down to Kerala, or over to Rajasthan perhaps – our plan wasn’t very well thought out. I could write a book about all of our different experiences: how we bought the van and the complexities of the Indian banking and legal systems; the whole day we spent getting the insurance – and meeting Cha Cha (Uncle) who was the broker, who when we came back to Mumbai took us out for a tandoori; buying our provisions and pots, pans and utensils (some of which I still have); how we modified the van; joined the Indian equivalent of the AA; got a ticket for running a red light because the brakes didn’t work! and how we set off in the middle of the Monsoon and soon came unstuck with the potholes and dodgy battery, breaking down on a remote road on the way to the hill stations outside of Mumbai.

Ultimately we had to return to Mumbai as it was too dangerous to continue, but looking back it was such an adventure although it didn’t feel like it at the time. It was an experience which was sometimes frustrating and sometimes really scary for me all those years ago, and this got in the way of me enjoying it. I think the me of today is much more adventurous and confident, and because of my experiences I now actually enjoy adversity and encountering problems because that’s what makes life interesting. Anyone reading this blog, I say to you – follow your dreams and make them a reality! It’s possible, it really is. It’s not easy, you have to work hard, save up, have a vision, work out a plan and then with a bit of perseverance, patience and luck you will achieve it. And if you don’t achieve fully what you set out to do it doesn’t matter because on the way you would have probably met great people and had priceless experiences. So here’s to my cousins, who encouraged and supported me all those years ago – I can’t wait to see you again.

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#20 Ouch!

Ouch! I had some vaccinations mid-week – diphtheria, tetanus and polio in one arm and hepatitis A and typhoid in the other – and this put paid to my training activity on account of me not being able to raise my arms above shoulder level for three days <sad face>. I’ve also decided to go for Yellow Fever as my certificate is 10 years out of date. Apparently the vaccination I previously had is now deemed valid for life, but with the amount of countries I’m visiting where Yellow Fever is present I would rather have an in-date certificate and peace of mind. I need to find a travel clinic for that one, I’d better get a move on!

My plan was to do a longish walk at the weekend but the injections had knocked me for six so I went to the local Country Park and did the 10k track, this time following the route correctly (I still think my way was more exciting), and avoiding the bridal paths and slightly odd but friendly old men (see #11)! It gave me a chance to try out some more of my new kit, namely the thermal tights, ‘polar’ buff and ‘mountain’ gloves. I became WAY too hot of course, as the weather was quite mild, and after kilometre 1 I had removed my mid-layer and at around 3k I dumped the waterproof and gloves. I would have stripped down to my tights if there hadn’t been numerous dog walkers and children about. At least I can take some re-assurance that the £100’s I’ve spent on kit is going to be worthwhile.

Apart from some decisions I need to make about various airport transfers my transportation arrangements were completed with the purchase of my bullet train pass! It was quite exciting to pick it up from a Japanese travel agent office and have the man hand it to me with two hands, as is the custom. It brought back memories of being in Japan and I wanted to enthusiastically say ‘arigato!’ (thank you in Japanese) but the office was quite quiet and everyone was working very studiously. I didn’t want to embarrass myself with incorrect pronunciation and disturb their concentration so I restrained myself to a nod, a thank you in English and a smile. I did jump up and down though when I got outside, lol.

To top off the week, my cousin Maria was in contact and it is Good News; she and her brother Mark (who I stayed with in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam – see #7) are going to be available on the dates I am in Singapore!! More about this in my next post.

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#19 Completing the jigsaw

It’s been a successful week with two great weekends either side. I still haven’t written my ‘to do’ list but I’m doing bits and bobs when I think of them. Travel insurance is sorted and I’ve ordered the main clothing items that I still needed (thermal tights, waterproof trousers and a ‘buff’, which is basically a snood in 1980’s speak!), although I still have multitude of other things to get like gloves (x3!), hat (x2), toiletries etc. and a new day rucksack as apparently mine is too small …

I’ve finally booked my accommodation in Japan between Tokyo and the Monastery. Hurrah! I’ve decided to go the Airbnb route and stay in Kyoto for six nights instead of two nights in each place I hope to visit; Kyoto, Osaka, and Hiroshima. My plan is to go on day trips (Golden Week permitting, see #14) using my bullet train pass, and hopefully find time to stop off in Kobe to taste a Kobe steak! I think it will be nice to stay in one place for a while and eat some home cooked meals as I’ll have a kitchen, and I can relax in the evenings and watch TV – or more likely, catch up on my blog – I’m looking forward to it already.

It was very exciting to go and get my Nepalese visa, it involved a trip to Kensington Palace Gardens in London and the whole thing took 25mins! It is possible to buy on arrival but if the airport’s anything like Egypt I don’t want to fight the melee for my place in the queue and if it’s anything like India I’m not going to feel like joining one queue for the paperwork, then another queue to get a ticket and then yet another to actually get the stamp and for it to be copied in triplicate (those of you who have been to India will know exactly what I’m talking about!) after a long flight. I was standing in the Embassy looking at all the photos of Kathmandu and Everest on the walls and realised that in just over a month I will actually be there seeing those sights in person. My trip has taken on a slightly dream-like feeling the last couple of weeks, something I write about on my daily commute on the train, and it was good to have a reality check and remind myself it’s actually going to happen. I am now Officially Excited.

While all of my trip preparation is going on I’m also trying to balance my normal life, work, and spending time with family and friends. One of my friends, Matt (the first person I had showed my blog to), had offered to accompany me on a walk – which ended up taking almost 2.5hours. I felt a bit sorry for him as I wanted to do hills so we went in a circle to do the steep one in the woods twice and then another circle to go down and up the road one. Hehe. He coped fine, and as a reward we had a nice lunch so both of us were happy. The weekend just gone my cousin Paul came with his wife Sarah and 7yr old twins Jaime and Callum. We went ice staking on the Sunday, which apart from doing some exercise was good practice being in a cold environment. We had a lovely time in the woods for an hour or so on Monday and I’m pleased to report that my horrid new boots are beginning to feel less horrid, which is a great relief.

In other news, the jigsaw puzzle was finally completed! I’d borrowed it from Callum when I visited back In October and had promised to have it finished by the time they paid me a return visit. With a little help from my friends – thanks Kate and Rob! – it was almost done when they arrived and then me, Callum and then Jaime put in the final three pieces. A job well done, and just in the nick of time as I needed to clear the dining room table for breakfast 🙂

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#18 Sheffield or bust

It was with some trepidation I collected my car from the station car park at lunchtime on the first Friday of February and started up the motorway to Sheffield. It was the long-awaited pre-trip weekend for the Everest trek and I was a bit nervous. We had to be at the Jagged Globe offices at 9.30am on the Saturday morning so when I got to the hotel I asked the receptionist to help me with some directions. It was apparently a fairly short walk, however she didn’t really know the best way and it all started to get a bit convoluted. Not one for being frivolous when it comes to travelling by taxi, I realised this was an exception – knowing my propensity to get lost at the drop of a hat I decided a taxi was a must as I didn’t want to be late. Fortunately I bumped into two lovely fellow trek-ladies at breakfast, Kay and Michaela, and we walked there together, arriving at the right place and on time!

The morning was very informative, we had a very useful discussion about kit and a session about the scientific research that Xtreme Everest had been working on for the last ten years (see my JustGiving page) and found out that we might be needed to take part in some experiments on our trek. Exciting! We’ll actually be stopping at a place called Namche Bazar for an extra night as the research team are going to present the findings of the research to the Sherpa community. This is one of the things that is going to make this trek very unique and I feel very privileged to be able to be part of it.

After the tea break we had a cheery talk about recognising the symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), which we would be likely to experience at some point, and High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) and High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE), which hopefully we wouldn’t. The main reason you get HAPE/HACE is when you don’t properly acclimatise, however our trek has extra days built into the schedule so our ascent is a little slower than most trips. Fingers crossed we’ll all stay well.

The afternoon saw us taking a gentle 5mile walk in the Peaks, and, lucky with the weather once again I wished for my sunglasses which I’d left at the hotel! After watching England beat France at rugby at the pub we went back next door to the Jagged Globe office where the organisers had arranged for the local Nepali restaurant to cook us a traditional meal. We queued up to get our Dal Bhat (lentils, rice, chicken curry and veg) and then all sat at a long table, got to know each other a bit and enjoyed our meal. This was followed by a slide show of pictures illustrating the route and places we were visiting on the trek, it looks amazing. I am so glad I had the chance to taste the food as that was one of the things I was most concerned about. Having experienced Indian food (in India), which I found universally spicy, I was worried it was going to be similar in Nepal. But it wasn’t, it was lovely! I am so happy about that.

We met at the train station at 9am on Sunday and caught the train to Grindleford. Today we would be out for about 5hrs walking and talking. I had finally got my new boots a few days before so I wore them on the Sunday. The going was muddy, wet and slippery underfoot, and after about 4hrs of walking up and down hills I must say that I so wanted to take them off! I guess I’m going to have to start wearing them every day to get myself used to the feel of them …

The weather held and it only got a bit drizzly once, so I also got the chance to try out my new waterproof jacket. I bought a merino wool base layer while I was there and wore it (so expensive! but worth it) so at least I have some kit now. I really liked the Peak District, the views were fabulous when we climbed up to the highest point in the area, and I took some great photos. The people were also really nice and doing the walk and the little talks that Ed from Simon from Jagged Globe, gave us every so often got us all chatting. I got to meet my roommate (Amanda), who is lovely, so I came home feeling a lot more excited about the trek than before I went, and I’m also much more positive about actually being able to complete it!

One last thing … one of the things I am most looking forward on the trek is this … apparently at Namche (altitude 3,440m) there is a nightclub with a pool table!! I can’t wait to play on the world’s highest pool table. Haha.

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#17 Looking forward to Nicaragua

Oh wow. I have just finished watching the Walking the Americas episode where Lev and Alberto walk through Nicaragua and I’m so glad that I have managed to fit it in. It reminded me of how on my day trip I was taken with the beautiful landscapes, the friendly atmosphere, the quaintness of the architecture and the general laid-back way of life. I realised that I had actually visited Granada that day so feel like I’m going somewhere familiar. I’m due to arrive the day before the tour starts, and am looking forward to exploring by myself before meeting up with the people I’ll be travelling with.

I’m also glad that the programme showed that Nicaragua is a safe place e.g. that they are no longer in a state of Revolution! Family are already worried about me going on this trip; I am remaining unwavering in my confidence that I will be absolutely fine (otherwise I’ll start freaking out!) but I do understand their concerns.

In July 2005 (my ex and) I went to Egypt to do a week on the Nile and a week in Sharm el-Sheik. I was glad to be escaping the UK as I had been on the tube during the London bombings on 7 July, a week or so before we left. Security at that time in Egypt was fairly high and everywhere on the Nile there were guards with big rifles slung over their shoulders. However the place is so awesome with all the temples and history and you have so much to do and see that the armed guards are part and parcel of the landscape. It was quite exciting getting up at 3.30am to join a massive convoy of buses at 5am, with armed vehicles at the front and rear and drive over the Sahara Desert to visit Abu Simbel (close to the Sudanese border). There had been incidents in tourist locations, such as the massacre at Hatshepsut’s Temple (Luxor) in 1997, but you just put it out of your mind and assumed you’d be safe.

After a great week on the Nile a few of us hopped over to Sharm for a week of relaxing. We had become friendly with a couple on their honeymoon, Raj and Min, who were staying at a different resort (we were at Naama Bay), so we decided to meet up for a snorkelling trip on the Saturday (24 July). The mini-bus was due at 8am so on the Friday evening we had gone to bed before midnight and were therefore asleep when a loud bang woke us up at about 1.15am. It sounded like a door slamming really loudly and we felt the vibration as if it was our door that had been slammed. We had a look around but all seemed quiet in the immediate area so we went back to sleep. The next morning we were waiting in the reception and saw hordes of Italian tourists with their suitcases checking out, we thought nothing of it and assumed that Saturday must be check-out day for Italians!

8am came and went and there was no sign of the bus. We’d had the forethought to take Raj’s number so eventually we sent a text to see if something had happened to the bus. The answer we received was that there was a delay as at each pick up point as there was lots of security. “Why was that?” we asked, “Because of the bomb” was the answer …. “What bomb??” we thought – then realised that the loud bang we had heard was actually a bomb going off in the next door hotel (the Movenpick).

The hordes of Italians now made sense, I believe that the Italian government (and others) had recommended that people leave so many people were trying to get home. After thinking about it for a few minutes we realised that we would probably be safer out in a boat on the red sea snorkelling than panicking in the hotel, or trying to get to the airport and fly home so we continued to wait for the bus, which eventually arrived.

We were going to old Sharm to get the snorkelling gear, but couldn’t use the main road as the debri was being cleared up so we set off through the back roads. These were evidently seldom used as there were big sand dunes literally in the middle of the road in parts, and no road at all in others, and after a hairy ride we found our way to the old town. We actually passed the Mall where one of the bombs had gone off, and saw the engine block from the car that was blown up in the middle of the road, and the emergency services staff literally pulling people out of the rubble. It was a sobering experience and we drove by quickly and found the shop. It was actually a fair distance from the Mall however its plate glass window at the front was completely cracked from the shockwave of the blast.

On hearing the news about the bomb all the other British people who had signed up for the snorkelling trip had cancelled, so the four of us were tagged onto a big group of Russians. I’ll leave the story of the snorkelling trip for another post, but needless to say it was ‘interesting’ …

As we only had a few days left of the trip we decided to show support and not change our plans, with so many people leaving the local businesses would be suffering so if we could eat at a few places and spend some money in the local area then that might help. On the Sunday evening there was a peace march past the wreckage of one of the other hotels in our area that was bombed (the Ghazala Gardens hotel) which was concealed behind a high white tarpaulin. There were lots of candles and the people were chanting “Say no to terrorism” in Arabic, we were more bystanders rather than being involved in the march but It was quite an emotional thing to witness and I still feel emotional when thinking about it.

I feel deeply for anyone who gets caught up in war or atrocities. I can’t really imagine the horror of what they must be going through, losing their loved ones, their homes, at risk of being captured, not knowing where their next meal is coming from, having to leave their country and become a refugee and live in a camp – like the people Lev and Alberto saw on Costa Rican / Nicaraguan border. We were lucky, we could get on a plane and leave it all behind but for these people, it is reality and it’s awful and shocking in this day and age.

I feel bad ending on an up-beat note after what I have just written about, however, I’m sure that I will be perfectly safe in Nicaragua and can’t wait to hike up volcanoes, visit hot springs, go zip lining or just relax on the beach until it’s time to fly to Ecuador for my volunteering.

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#16 Barcelona, Bruges and B…?

After getting home from my not-quite-4hr-walk, I got ready and made my way over to Sarah’s as she had organised a little reunion of the ‘Gang’ – a group of us, mostly from cadets, who have stayed in touch. Over the years there had been parties and get-togethers, and the boys had done various hiking trips, but in 2014 there was a landmark birthday and we decided to have a trip away. Barcelona was chosen and we had a fun weekend which mostly consisted of eating, drinking, a visit to the Sagrada Familia, more eating, more drinking … and a race to the top of a rope climbing frame on the beach at midnight (smashed it!).

In 2016 there was another landmark birthday so this time we went to Bruges and apart from the obligatory eating and drinking, we managed a brewery tour and a lovely boat ride around the canal (we took up almost the whole boat as there were 15 of us!), and I even fitted in a visit to the Dali Museum with Neil and Annie. They had both done the Everest trek so it was lovely to spend some time with them and chat about their experiences. While I’ll freely admit that in the presence of this particular group I am a bit of a lightweight when it comes to keeping up with eating and drinking, I was able to lead a few of us astray on the Saturday night as I’d spied a bar/nightclub that I rather fancied going to, and we danced the night away until about 3.30am. Happy days.

It was great to catch up with everyone and there was much talk about our next foray. We seem to be picking places beginning with ‘B’, I’m personally hoping we can make it to Bora Bora, but in reality it might be Bognor! Haha (not that there’s anything wrong with Bognor I hasten to add). Have to wait and see. I shunned the Bruges Zot for ginger beer, and left at a respectable time as I was planning to skype Charlie in Abu Dhabi at 9am the next morning and then drag my friend Lorraine through the woods near my house in the afternoon.

Charlie had also done the Everest trek and after speaking to her all my worries about actually surviving the trip came back. I’d also been speaking to Australian James (as he’s done it too) and I would say that both of them are a lot fitter and hardier than I am, so it’s finally getting through to me that this isn’t going to be a walk in the park (well, not that I thought it would be, but you know what I mean). In a slightly morbid moment I asked Google how many people had died trekking to base camp and it said an average of 4 per year – out of the 30,000 or so who attempt it. Ok, the odds of expiring are slim, but still …

Lorraine arrived at mine just after 2pm, we are usually ‘Ladies wot lunch’ however both of us were quite excited at doing something different. Lorraine was my first real boss (we worked at the Halifax) and I’ve now been friends with her and her husband for over 20 years. She was great when I got back from my backpacking trip in the mid-90’s and while I was job-searching she let me work Saturday’s and called me when she needed someone to fill-in across branches in her area when someone was off sick or they needed some support. I have been so lucky with some of the fantastic managers I’ve had and I regularly meet up with many of them who I now count as friends. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the opportunities and support they all gave me and my current boss, Phil, is no exception.

We were out for about an hour and a half and got back just as it started to rain. Lorraine really enjoyed the walk, as did I, and we were happy to swap our mud cake for mud (for once).

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