Category Archives: Adventure

Peru: 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.”

Peru: 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.

The Inca Trail | I did it

Machu Picchu 3I 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 — this link 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!

Peru: 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!

>Six days

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There is now officially less than ONE WEEK to go until I leave for Peru.

I’ve got the walking boots, the walking poles, the 3-season sleeping bag for the sub-zero night temperatures. I have the various supplements and medications to keep my knees working (and me walking) and together we have raised £3,775 — not including promised sponsorships on paper.

But with your help, I can still raise even more. Everything you donate from here goes 100% to Macmillan Cancer Support, the whole reason for this trip. When I am climbing 4,200m to Dead Woman’s Pass or crossing the Urubamba river on a rope bridge, remember I am doing it all for Macmillan, and the people they help every day.

It promises to be an exhausting trip — which is probably why it’s called a hiking “challenge” — but I wouldn’t be going at all if it wasn’t for your support, and I should mention the support of First Group who have been more than generous with sponsorship, too.

I owe a massive debt of gratitude to everyone for their donations so far, for everyone who has come to fundraising events and anyone who just joined the group to give me moral support, and invited their friends. I have the hardest part ahead of me still to come — but if I don’t get a chance to update before I go, thank you all.

I hope by raising money for Macmillan this once-in-a-lifetime trip will go some way to being a tribute to my aunt, and to my very special family.

Don’t forget, you can still donate online and help me raise even more at
http://justgiving.com/jameschesters

>May 8 update

>Now it’s getting really close — as of today, it’s 21 days until the big challenge. So far the updates have all been about me — my fundraising, my training, requests for more donations. But I want to take some time to remember the whole reason I am doing this challenge.

1 in 3 people will have cancer, of some kind, at some point in their lives. To put that into perspective a little, 25 people who have joined this group will one day suffer from some form of cancer. Think of your groups of friends and your immediate family — what does 1 in 3 represent? Even if personally we won’t have cancer ourselves, we are all affected.

Macmillan Cancer Support, in their own words, provide people with practical, medical, emotional and financial support — and push for better cancer care.

Macmillan are literally a source of support, helping with all the things that people affected by cancer want and need. It’s not only patients who live with cancer, so they are there to also help carers, families and communities. Macmillan guide people through the system, supporting them every step of the way.

They fund nurses and other specialist health care professionals and build cancer care centres. But they give so much more than medical help.

People need practical support at home, so Macmillan provide anything from some precious time off for a carer, to a lift to hospital. People need emotional support, so they listen, advise and share information though their CancerLine, website, support groups and trained professionals. People need financial help to cope with the extra costs cancer can bring, so Macmillan give benefits advice, and grants for anything from heating bills to travel costs.

Together Macmillan listen, learn, and act to help people live with cancer.

This is the reason why I am going to Peru, so that Macmillan can carry on giving support, and keep giving help to the people that really need it.

Macmillan have been there for my family, just as they are there every day for so many others.

>Be kind to your knees, you’ll miss them when they’re gone

>In an effort to get some training in for Peru, I joined two fellow trekkers for a walk in the Chilterns, an area of “outstanding natural beauty”. It was rated as seven out of 10 in difficulty, about 20km and 5 hours of walking. No problem, I thought.

First the good news: I was not noticeably less fit than either of my counterparts. In parts after steep uphill climbs where I’d be feeling a little warm and out of breath, they seemed to mirror my own reactions — and most importantly, it didn’t take me long to recover. Heart and lungs seem to be in excellent working order.

Continuing the good news theme, my hiking boots are incredibly comfortable and there was not even a hint of a blister or rubbing all day. An excellent buy there, and I think we can safely say they are broken in.

The bad news is I am in pain. Somewhere along the way the steep downhill descents must have proved too much for my knees — and if you hadn’t guessed by the fact I am updating in the middle of the day, I am home from work sick today as I can barely stand up. Completing the walk yesterday was very difficult and painful as my knee became stiffer and more unyielding. The doctor has told me today I have strained the ligaments, and I need to rest it. I can also put an ice pack on it twice a day and take anti-inflammatory drugs three times a day. It’s a good job I have a stash of the latter in the cupboard.

My research on the internet tells me this kind of thing is quite common, and unsurprisingly associated with steep downhill descents. I was probably going too quickly. For Peru, if not before, I will need walking poles and a knee support — and I think a small supply of medication in my luggage.

It’s frustrating, I want to be out walking and training in the gym, and right now I can’t do either. But I’ll crawl the Inca trail on my hands and knees if I have to.

>New year, more donations

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Updates have been on the ground lately, but you will all hopefully be pleased to hear how the fund-raising is going.

To date, the current total is standing at a huge £2,170 — a massive thank you goes out to all the readers of this blog who have donated online and/or sent me cheques! I really would not be able to do this without your help!

I am not there yet, though, and am still trying to find the remaining £1,200 of the minimum I need to raise — and see no reason to stop at the “minimum”. I know times are hard for all of us, but please if you are able to give anything at all, all donations are gratefully received.

There are plans in the pipeline for another Essex fund-raising event before my departure, so watch this space for more information there.

Otherwise, you will be pleased to know that I am training hard — usually hitting the gym 5 out of 7 days, and sometimes twice a day. I’m working on a range of things, from my core strength and balance, to strength training and cardiovascular workouts.

I have recently sent out letters to local hiking and camping shops in the hope they might be generous enough to help out with some of the equipment I need, although there have been no responses as of yet. Either way, I hope to be in possession of a pair of hiking boots next weekend as a birthday present, unless one of the stores stumps up a pair first.

More updates soon — as ever, please keep donating and keep inviting your friends to read — and thanks for all of your support!

>Autumnal update

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Recent donations have now topped the £500 mark — particular thanks go to Amanda’s colleagues, Mik and Adil who carried me over the £500 milestone.

In other news, it’s been a good week for publicity. Coverage to date has appeared in the Basildon Echo newspaper, the Chelmsford Weekly News, online on the ThisIsEssex web portal and the South Woodham Focus. Coverage will also be appearing in next week’s Essex Enquirer.

Our fundraising quiz night raised a total of £113 — thanks to everyone who came along and contributed, it was a lot of fun and exceeded expectations. Special thanks goes to Howard Carter for donating his time and services on the night!

In other news, a sponsored dress-down day and Halloween pumpkin competition in work have added another £47 to the fundraising total. Altogether, this brings the current total up to an impressive £695. The Essex Chronicle took an interest in the pumpkin story, so kindly gave me some more coverage there.

We will be planning more events in the near future, including hopefully a fundraising evening in London, so please keep an eye open for updates, keep visiting, keep inviting your friends to read and keep the sponsorship coming! My current aim is to reach £1,000 by Christmas — but I need all of your help to achieve this.

Thanks again to everyone who has donated to date and helped support events, but most of all thank you all for showing your support here!

>Moving into marketing — and more donations!

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It’s been too long since my last update, please forgive me loyal followers, supporters and sponsors!

Since my last update, I have got a new job — leaving behind the grey, drab world of purchasing I have become the new marketing guy for my company. What this means most importantly is I have almost complete control of my Peru trek publicity. The local “operating company” of my much larger company have formally agreed to sponsor me a very generous sum towards my final target. Putting my PR and journalistic skills to good use, I have produced press releases publicising the fact — from a local angle (company gives money to local man) and the more corporate angle, for the trade press.

There has been a warm response from two local paid-for newspapers in Essex, with one daily evening paper sending a photographer round to my house this evening to take pictures. The other paper is very keen to run the story but is asking me to provide the pictures. Of course, I should have thought of this in the first place before sending the releases out — they will get much more interest if they come with pictures. This will be remedied in the next day or two.

In other sponsorship news, my first fundraising event has been confirmed for the evening of October 22. A charity quiz night, hosted by a local DJ and renowned quiz master, is in the process of being booked — the idea is for there to be six people to a team, paying £5 each, with the hall holding about 60 people in total. I have begun soliciting local shops and businesses for raffle prizes, next I need to work out some kind of advertising.

The Facebook group has swelled in numbers since my last post, it is now up to nearly 60 members and is a great way to publicise the fundraising events I am planning. It is also an easy way of keeping supporters updated with the sponsorship progress.

Money donated (or promised via my paper sponsorship form) to date totals almost £500! The handy little graphic in the sidebar tells me this makes it up to 15%. In the last three days I have had three separate donations; the Lions Club of South Woodham Ferrers have generously donated £100, my uncle sent me a cheque for a further £50 and a good friend this evening has donated £15.

I aim to have hit the £500 by the end of this weekend — but let’s see if I can smash through that target!

As always, anyone wanting to find out more information about the Peru hiking challenge, or the work of Macmillan, please visit http://www.macmillan.org.uk/peru. And any kind souls who would like to help support my great Peru trek for Macmillan Cancer Support can do so on my JustGiving page.