“Let’s go Someplace like Bolivia”

The Toyota Land Cruiser pulled up outside the Butch Cassidy Hostal. I stepped outside and stretched a body stiff from 5-hours bouncing along rough dirt tracks. My mouth, like the rest of me, had a fine coating of dust and I spat gritty saliva onto the road. Bolivia tasted of adobe. In 4-days we had driven over 1,100-kilometres through some of the strangest terrain imaginable. The altiplano in winter, the dry season, is a near-deserted vastness of unprecedented geological complexity stretched out beneath a deep blue sky. Continue reading

Tennis and Tension in the Sacred Valley

Sunday dawned deep blue and windless, a perfect combination. Closing the window and walking to the bathroom the aches from yesterday’s rapid ascent of Montana Machu Picchu – 1,850-feet in 50-minutes if you care to know – were experienced afresh. Today was therefore designated a rest day and also happened to be the final of the French Open taking place over 6,000-miles away and 6-hours ahead of us in Paris. Andy Murray would be taking on Novak Djokovic, a scenario that is currently the greatest rivalry in tennis. Murray would be playing to gain his third Grand Slam and a place amongst only ten players to have won three slams, whilst Djokovic would be playing to be the current holder of all four grand slams, a feat achieved only by a few other players in the entire history of tennis in the open era. It was also National election day in Peru. Setting my priorities accordingly we went in search of a television set that might happen to be capable of showing the tennis. Continue reading

Finding Shangrilala

I write from the ‘Valley of Longevity’ – marketing hype if ever there was. Truth be told most of the, supposedly, old timers round here in Vilcabamba, Ecuador cannot remember their exact date of birth with great accuracy and therefore claims that the climate, soil and way of life will put off the inevitable are a little stretched. Continue reading

A Chance in a Million

It stretched away on all sides: a shiny black crust many metres thick that snaked and cracked across the face of the earth like some revolting sore. It radiated the sun’s heat with ferocious efficiency and one felt totally basted in warm air, like a piece of meat in a convector oven. I felt my core temperature peaking as sweat ran from each and every pore, eyes stinging from the salty rivulets and the diamond-bright sunlight overhead that this cursed rock seemed to reflect upwards thwarting my wide-brimmed hat. It was hellish in its assault on the human frame, hellish in aspect and hellish in its total abnegation of life. Or so it seemed. Continue reading

Welcome to a New World

The passenger compartment in the boat, although open to the elements at the rear, was stiflingly hot and airless. We were all arranged along either side on padded benches with the hard upright walls as support and a pile of luggage on the floor in between. The roar from the three Mercury 200 outboard engines was horrendous and together they raised an impressive ‘rooster tail’ of wake almost as high as the boat itself. The only saving grace on this infernal journey was that the sea was smooth apart from a very long-interval swell which came at us exactly side on and thus did not cause any stomach unsettling motion. Continue reading

The Judas Goat

I’ve never really liked goats. Something about their smell, the dead eyes and annoying bleat. So growing up on a smallholding in Cornwall in the 1980s with a handful of the creatures was something of a trial: my mother named one Mischief – not without good reason. It seemed that no matter how hard you hammered the spike to tether them into the ground they would find a way to escape. And then they would head towards the garden, greenhouse or vegetable plot and begin to feed. However, unlike other animals that might eat a few plants and then proceed to curl up and siesta the goat will stroll around picking the growing tips of as many choice plants as it can find and ringing as many newly planted trees and shrubs. It is this almost hellish characteristic that I most disliked and which has led to them being nick-named ‘The Desert Makers’. My favourite saying in reference to goats as a species was ‘the best kind of goat is a curried one’. Continue reading