Project Camino: Part 3- Music

If there’s one thing I like about the walking, it’s the music. Climbing to the summit of that mountain can be made so much better, in my eyes, with the correct music track. Maybe some epic orchestral movement, or some amazing electric guitar, or Justin Bieber…if that’s what you’re in to.

I like being able to lose myself, be that through my thoughts, my writing or my music. I don’t follow one particular person religiously, but when a specific track comes on, and I like it, I’ll stick to it. Play it millions of times until my brain finally takes a step back and tells me of the mistake I’m making, and that I can no longer listen to it because it is ‘ruined’. Walking the Camino was an opportunity for me to explore this escapism through music, discovering exactly what I like, and if it’s possible to like other things with more subjection to it.

On the other hand, other people seem to cope better without any background music, just their thoughts. This I can understand, it makes it easier to contemplate whatever it is you’re meant to be contemplating. My dad, for instance, rarely listened to music but still came away with more or less the same experience I did.
The other fallback, I found, was the pressure to pick ‘good music’. I never understood why, because someone hadn’t heard of who I was listening to, it was bad. There are a million different types of music, and billions of tracks, but because you haven’t heard of this particular one, it’s bad. Music is a very personal preference, doubly so in this environment. It becomes more of an extension of yourself, of your thoughts, permitting you to connect to yourself, and your environment, with greater ease, depending on your presence of music or no music.

In my opinion, I find that music serves to intensify a specific emotion that you’re experiencing. Amplifying your thoughts with greater clarity. This can be why many people have different favourite songs dependent on ‘what mood they’re in’. The anger and rage you feel becomes clearer with that heavy metal track, or why, when you’re in a romantic setting, the perfect romantic ballad can help ‘woo’ your date. This is why it is so easy to connect with those special lyrics, because they perfectly sum up all of you’re emotions and thoughts when listening to it.

Lyrics become embedded into memory, stuffing themselves into the cracks of your mind, never forgotten, a snapshot of your current state whilst listening to the perfect song.

-Elliot

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Project Camino: Part 2- Confidence.

It takes a lot of confidence to try new things. I’m not saying that before I wasn’t confident, because I was. I wasn’t afraid to talk to people or try something new, however there is a difference in getting that weird sounding plate of food from wagamamas and walking 260km through Spain.
On my travels, it was hard, especially at the start, to walk up to other walkers to engage in conversation. This is a bit of a problem when you’re on your own for two weeks with nothing to do.

I have met some incredible people as I let my confidence grow. For me, it takes time, it takes time for everyone to adapt, yet they are all on the same walk as you are. Confidence takes time. You need time to grow but, once you realise that it doesn’t matter, it’s easy.
One of the many purposes of the trip was to allow myself to try new things. Jumping off of bridges into rivers, eating octopus tentacles, a cheeky splash of wine and even going to church. For me, that’s big.

Starting at Astorga, I was immediately nervous, not sure where we were starting that night, wether or not we could have a bed, what we would be eating, wether it would rain, if my bag was too light, how was my stomach? In the end, I decided none of that mattered.
It doesn’t matter, in all honesty. I was prepared for it, but I was still choosing to make myself anxious. Why would I choose to make myself feel bad? Ultimately, I am in charge of how I feel and I am the only person in control with my emotions. Why waste my time bumming myself out.

A wise man told me something along the way that has stuck with me, as a kind of mantra.

The only thing that is important is you being happy.

I was fortunate enough to understand that along the way. Why would I waste my time caring what other people think? If I want to try something, yet somebody doesn’t want me to, should I let that influence my decision in anyway. Granted if it was jumping out of a plane without a parachute I may reconsider, but everyday things. Talking to people, learning about new things and experience amazing things. Seeing great sights and sounds ultimately made me realise the importance of being happy. If I wasn’t happy, why would I do it.

Confidence is, for me, an interesting issue. You can’t pick up a bag of confidence at your local supermarket (a cheap bottle of whiskey that does the same thing maybe). It’s purely mental. I view it the same way as I view fear. It is a mental subject that is entirely self inflicted that limits ones ability. If I’m not confident in myself, I may perform at a lower level. So why? Surely if I am in charge of my own emotions and mental state I can simply decide, we can all simply decide, to simply stop and be confident. Confidence is purely subjective, once you realise that, you will soon not care about it any more.

Elliot out.

Project Camino: Part I of V

PART ONE: ORIGINS

All stories have origins. Wether or not they happen in a particularly epic manner or not is a different manner. For me, the start of my 260km trek through Spain didn’t start with a vision in a burning bush, or a visit from the ghost of Christmas past, or a paranormal entity crawling out of my TV, but walking out of a cinema, 99p Chicken Mayo burger in hand.

“I’m just saying, sometimes it’s better to not know where you’re going. When was the last time you went on an actual adventure?”
This was the kind of thing we usually talked about, my dad and I, when out together. His mundane collection of maps annoyed me. My mundane approach of adventure and wandering blindly annoyed him. What was planned there and then may, or may not have been to put these theories to the test. My Dad, who had remained silent now offered his thoughts. “Have you ever heard of the Camino?”

Well, me being a sixteen year old obviously hadn’t. I knew about the burger, and munched on it silently. What was a Camino? It sounded like a species of Piranha.
I did have the guts to Google it when we got home. “WHAT! THAT’S A WALK, A LONG ONE!”. I hadn’t really known much about how long walks usually were, as the average duration for me was fifteen minutes down to the local Tesco to get a jumbo chocolate croissant in the morning (85p, in case you’re wondering, i’d recommend).
260km would be our distance, restricted by time.
That and my fitness.
Oh, and the sleeping arrangements.

I didn’t know this at the time, but hostels are not that comfortable. I was given a description, but nothing could prepare me for the living conditions. In fact, nothing could have prepared me for any of it. The walking, early hours, coffee, massive sandwiches, annoying birds and snoring women. All of which I experienced. But I did try to prepare.

Climbing Mt Snowdon, the numerous hikes, early starts and aching all played their part in my year long training so I would simply be able to finish. I do live in England though, so I don’t have the heat. Scorched earth beating down on you without any shade for hours as your lips dry and water depletes. You wage a constant war with the equilibrium of energy and sleep.

But I like a challenge. I like seeing what I can actually do, how far I can push myself.

After all, how bad could it be?

-Elliot

The Almighty Inca Trail – Peru

Day UNO.
Rise and shine it’s 430am!
Leaving Cusco to embark on the world renowned, brain draining, muscle flailing, emotion  invoking Inca trail.
Four days of intense physical and mental trials and tribulations ensues.

On the road

12 tourists, 3 guides and one driver, like ecstatic school children heading to an uber-exciting excursion.
We were bused for an hour and a half to a small village to purchase last minute snacks, drinks and coca leaves (the most important commodity).

We stocked up on agua sin gas, muesli bars, chocolates, juices, paracetamol, toilet paper, peanuts and corn kernels, then piled back onto the bus and drove for an hour and a half to reach the beginning of the Inca trail.

We stamped our passports, were rigorously I.D’d, participated in a pep talk and were dubbed the ‘Extreme Condors’, then lifted our walking sticks in the air as a good luck salute and before we knew it, we were on our way.

Inca Trail

Inca Trail

The altitude was already somewhat of a battle for some as others persevered and pressed on. We walked for what seemed like hours but were well rewarded when we finally reached our lunch site.

We were all foreseeably flabbergasted. The porters had set up two huge tents. One acted as a lunch room and the other a kitchen. On arrival not only did we receive applause but also ‘chicha morada’ a traditional Peruvian drink made from purple corn. The taste was somewhat reminiscent of blackcurrant or Ribena.
As we relaxed and attempted to recover, the porters organized a bucket of warm water so we were able to wash before lunch.

Then…Lunch was served.

Inca Trail

 

Inka Trail

Another three or so hours before we reached camp for the night and as the adrenalin subsided and exhaustion kicked in, we were all feeling very lethargic and ready to hit snooze by 8pm.

Tents

Day DOS.
A 5am wake-up call.
The porters gently shook our warm tent as we slowly remembered what we had gotten ourselves into.
They served us coca tea in our sleeping bags to assist with the altitude giving us the much needed morning kick.

We packed our duffle bags ready for the porters to whisk away and set up at our next site. We crawled out of our temporary homes and made a beeline for the breakfast tent.

Fresh mixed fruits, toast jam and butter, pancakes with chocolate, porridge and tea and coffee awaited us in all its delectable glory.
We ate, not unlike a pack of starving wolves in an attempt to sufficiently fuel up for what is dubbed the ‘hardest day on the trail.’

The porters were then introduced to us one by one, we learnt their age, number of kids and number of wives. Twenty in all, ranging from ages 19 to well in their 60′s and each carrying approximately 30kgs.

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Our day then began.
It was 6:30am and with muchos gusto we embarked on what would be, not only physically but an incredibly mentally challenging climb.

The porters were off and running and as we turned the corner to continue the journey, we were immediately met with an enormous hill. Using our walking sticks and well conditioned legs we began to power on as a pack.

As the day progressed so did the space between each member of the group, each finding their own rhythm and pace.
Five hours of intense physical exertion, litres of sweat and tears,  predominantly uphill terrain, porters hot on our heels and countless muesli bars for fuel later we reached dead woman’s pass.
An epic 4200m in the air, extreme cold, our head in the clouds and enormous cheers from fellow Trekkers we had finally reached the summit.

The sheer elation, personal achievement and adrenalin was a feeling of something entirely unexplainable. We were all cold, sweaty and tired but ecstatic to have finally reached our goal for the day.

peru

From here on in it was one hour of pure knee-crunking downhill rocky terrain. I decided to run the majority of it whilst others took it slower taking in the scenery.
Beating my personal best at being a mad dawg was of utmost importance at this point.

Without Fred Durst and Christina Aguilera in my ears  there is no way I would have made it!

We finally reached camp at approximately 130pm. Wet wipe baths ensued and we all exchanged stories and laughs that occurred on the hike.
Lunch was promptly served, fried onion rings, veggie soup, baked eggplant, egg omelettes, stuffed capsicum and veggie quinoa.
After we all had a long lunchtime siesta it was time for popcorn and card  games as the blue sky grew to night.

Dinner was later served, some of the extreme condors had to miss out as they were suffering severe bouts of gastro.

Inka Trail

Day TRES.
A Sleep In was allowed. The porters shook our tents at 530am offering us all a hot cup of coca tea to get us up and raring for the day ahead.
We had 18kms and ten hours of hiking ahead of us.

A few more awoke with signs of gastro as we all discussed our bowel movements at the breakfast table over tea, toast, omlette, porridge and frittered bananas.

We began our trek as soon as our tummies were well full.

Forty minutes of pure uphill fiascos which lead to an incredible Inca building, we then had a history class and found out the building was built in the 1400′s and only discovered in 1911. It was strategically constructed to ensure all areas of access to the site were visible in case of the threat of intruders or enemies.

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We persevered on for another one hour uphill battle.

Then, for the next three hours, it was all knee-jarring, thigh jerking, 6000 stone steps of downhill strutting.

I heard along the Inca grapevine that lunch was being served at the third Inca pass.

IMG_5836Inka

The lunch spot was incredible. We were witnessing Veronica Peak, surrounded by snow capped mountains and low-level cloud.
After everyone began arriving we all sat down for a meal, followed by a very welcome half hour siesta.

We still had approximately two hours worth of hiking to our night site, where a cold cerveza (beer) and jugo de naranja (orange juice) was promised.

After a two hour trek and countless repeat plays of Pitbull’s  ‘Hotel room service’ (reserve all judgement thanks) I had finally reached the next stop.
There were loads of other gringos (tourists) scattered about the site. There was a bar setup, a real banjos (toilet) with a seat and a hot ducha (shower). We all relished in the booze and celebrated an almost victory with beers, wine and a farewell banquet for our porters (cooked by the porters)
We all got rowdy (vino and altitude is not a good combo) but hit the hay promptly as we were told our tents would be shaken at 330am!

Drunk and disorderly hikers all frog-marched straight to their sleeping bags as soon as this hour of rising was set upon them.

Party in Peru

Day CUATRO
Waking at ridiculous O’Clock, our eye was on the prize and Machu Picchu (meaning old mountain) was only two hours away.
We began walking at approx 5am and arrived at the world famous site before all the other loco snaparazzi tourists did.

We enjoyed the history, architecture and picturesque location on an incredibly clear sun-filled magnificent day. Today the sun gods were really treating us. There were adorable fluffy llamas roaming about freely, thousands more steps, incredible architectural techniques and all perfectly located in a self-sufficient Eco-system .

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Although the trek was physically and mentally challenging feat of strength, comradery and perseverance, I’m super pumped to say  ‘I survived the Inca trail!’

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Good to know before you go: A good level of fitness and pre-trip training is essential for the Inca Trek. You will trek on hilly terrain or mountainous terrain at altitudes of up to 4200 metres, for up to 7 hours per day.

Ensure to pre-book with a tour guide or tour company, I went through Geckos, whom were fantastic as number of hikers are limited every year.

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Below is a packing list, however, I was very un-prepared completing my climb in jeans and a T-shirt.
Packing List
  • 1 pair light walking pants
  • 1 pair jeans
  •  underwear
  • 3 t-shirts
  • 3 pairs running socks
  • 1 rain jacket
  • 1 Rain Pants
  •  water bottle
  •  First Aid Kit
  • 1 light thermal top
  • 1 light thermal bottom
  • Beanie
  • light gloves
  • hiking boots

NO SHOWERS which mean Wet Wipes are your best friend!

  • deodorant
  • bandaids
  • safety pins
  • toothbrush
  • toothpaste
  • sunblock
  • chapstick

Electronics

  • camera
  • memory cards
  • Headlamp
  • Torch and batteries

Other Stuff

  • day pack
  • passport
  • Fill your music player up with tunes!

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Alaska Road Trip – how to be bear smart and other useful advice

Driving to or in Alaska is not as scary as some people would have you believe. Yes, you need to be mindful of certain things, but it’s not scary, honestly!

Last year I drove on my own from our home here in Southern Alberta, Canada to Alaska,  a total round trip of just under 7,000 km, and I would do it all again, and again, and again (although I think my family would not be best pleased!).

The start of the Alaskan Highway

The start of the Alaskan Highway

The first thing I would advise anybody wanting to do a road trip to Alaska, is to go and buy the latest edition of ‘The Milepost’.
This fantastic guide has every mile in Alaska and parts of Canada logged. It has information on roads, towns, accommodation, shops, attractions, dangers you could face, and every natural beauty spot you could imagine. This book became my bible before, and during my trip.

Now, you don’t have to plan everything to the last bit, but in a state where gas stations can be few and far between, some planning is necessary if you don’t want to find yourself in the middle of nowhere having run out of gas. Don’t get me wrong, somebody will stop and help you, but that could be a while depending on where you are.

I would sometimes drive for hours without meeting so much as an oncoming car, so it’s advisable that you fuel up every chance you get, and are always aware how far away the next gas station is. And if like me your car takes premium gas, be prepared that some gas stations do not carry premium gas (oh, and the price goes up exponentially when you get into remote areas).

I literally planned my driving days from gas station to gas station and only came close once to running out of gas (although, even that was planned, as I knew that one tank would get me to my destination – just).

The other thing you should make sure of, is that you have a good spare tire on board. The days where you needed a full set of spares are in my mind gone. Most little towns have a car repair shop or somebody who is able to do it for you. Yes, it might mean a slight change to your travel plans, but sometimes the unexpected stops are the best. Make sure your vehicle is in good mechanical condition and you should be able to do some of the basic maintenance yourself. I bought a tire puncture repair kit (which I didn’t need to use), and one of these jump start/tire inflator things. I was glad I had them with me, just in case.

On the Alaskan Highway - hours go by without ever meeting another car.

On the Alaskan Highway – hours go by without ever meeting another car.

The Milepost, together with those who travel up and down the Alaskan Highways on a regular basis, will tell you that the Alaskan Highway (the Alcan) will be very busy during the summer months of July and August and that you will spend the majority of your drive sitting behind trailers and RV’s, waiting for an opportunity to overtake. I must admit, I did not find this to be the case. Perhaps I was just lucky, but I only found myself in this situation a couple of times. Yes, on occasion the roads were busy, again, depending on where you go. The busiest part for me was actually back in Canada, on the Icefields Parkway, between Jasper and Banff, but even then, I didn’t mind being slowed down, it gave me time to admire the landscape and animals we came across.

Talking about animals, we have all heard the horror stories (or seen the YouTube videos) of people being attacked by bears/wolves/cougars etc. Again, yes it can happen, but usually because the animal was surprised to find you there or you were trying to feed it (yes, believe it or not, people will try and feed these animals).

As I was travelling solo I bought some bear spray as a precaution, but to be honest, the only time this will work is if you are fairly close to the bear.
Your best bet is to be bear smart and try to never surprise a bear, keep all food and items like perfume, toothpaste etc far away from where you intent to sleep (that is, if you are tenting or camping), lock these items into your vehicle or hoist them in a cooler high up into the trees.

Remember that if a black bear is following you, climbing a tree will not help you, as they are really good at following you up that tree. The majority of bear incidents happen because the humans didn’t do the smart thing. It’s not just bears that can be a potential danger out in Alaska, moose are as deadly as anything. If you intent to drive during the dark hours you must be prepared to encounter these large beasts. Here in Canada more people are killed by moose than by bear, and I am sure it’s not that different over in Alaska. If your car has a close encounter with a moose, 99 out of 100 times you and your car will lose, whereas the moose will be able to walk on.

One of many black bears that I encountered along the roadside

One of many black bears that I encountered along the roadside

I had absolutely no issues with animals on my trip (if I ignore the cheeky chipmunk that was trying to steal my bread). I came close to all sorts of animals, but with a healthy respect for them and the environment I was in, it was always a great experience.

A note on booking ahead. If you are planning on taking any ferry, whether as a foot passenger or with your vehicle, be aware that booking as far in advance as possible is a necessity.
I took two ferries with my car; the first from Haines to Juneau and the second from Juneau to Whittier. Both of these I had booked as soon as the new schedule for that year came out; in this case 10 months before I travelled.

Ferries like these book up real fast, especially if you have a trailer/RV, and also if you want a cabin. The Haines to Juneau ferry was only a 5 hour ride and this route operates on a regular basis throughout the summer. In contrast, the Juneau to Whittier ferry (the Cross Gulf ferry) only operates twice a month and car space is at a premium. So, ensure you book as soon as you can to avoid disappointment (my whole trip was planned around the Cross Gulf ferry).

As for accommodation, I only booked ahead for towns/cities where I stayed longer than one night, which was only the cased for Haines, Juneau and Anchorage. I had no issues finding a campsite for tenting or hotels in any of the other places I overnighted.

Looking out into the inlet from Haines, Alaska

Looking out into the inlet from Haines, Alaska

Here are some random things I learned on this trip that might help you in some way (in no particular order):

–      it rains more in Alaska during the summer than I thought, so be prepared

–      potholes are on every highway and road, get used to avoiding them unless you want to train yourself in changing your tire

–      anywhere with a port will inevitably have a cruise ship or 10, so be prepared for the masses in these towns/cities (i.e. Juneau, Skagway, Haines)

–      wildlife will not stand and pose for you near the highways, so don’t be too disappointed if you don’t see any

–      if you want to go and do things like whale watching or any other organized activity, and you don’t like the masses to be with you, spend some time researching to find smaller local companies that will often offer you a much better deal with much smaller groups

–      go off the beaten path every once in a while

–      take time to stop on the road every so often to take in the scenery and admire the wildflowers along the highways and roads

–      don’t over pack, most of the items you think you will need end up at the bottom of your car only seeing the light of day when you unload at home after your trip (trust me, I had a few of those items lurking in my car)

So, if you plan a little ahead, have some common sense and are not afraid of the unknown a trip like this can be the experience of a lifetime; it sure was for me!

If you would like to read about my trip last year, please come and visit my blog http://storki.wordpress.com/category/alaska/.

Drifting above the rainforest: Ziplining in Monteverde

For me, Monteverde (located in the centre of Costa Rica) is, and will always be, one of the most immersive and beautiful places in South America. It’s good food, fantastic hotel resorts (donut breakfast!), and an adrenaline pumping experience.

I didn’t know that morning, during the donut breakfast buffet previously mentioned, that I would be suspended 160 ft above the rainforest canopy. You could imagine my surprise, therefore, when I encountered one of said zip lines, balanced precariously on the edge of a mountain. A structure of cheap steel and wood. I mean come on! Really!

I was harnessed and ready to go, my heart about to pump out of my chest and make a break for it, running away going “see you later sucker!”. Thankfully it didn’t, so I still had to do it.
Usually I’m an adventurous guy, someone who’ll try new things. Not then. Then I wanted to get away, to not do it. I didn’t though, I reinforced, reassured and reenergised myself, this became incredibly important when I was the first person to be clipped to the line.

Imagine, for a second, you’re in my shoes. A size 9 1/2, probably some sort of office shoes- anyway, you’re basically dangling there, and then you go forward through a hoe in the trees and there’s the floor…a long way down.
I’m not scared of heights. Falling from them, however, is something I don’t really plan on doing, nor do in the future, so I immediately pulled on the brakes. That’s important, that bit, that reflex I had no control over. You’ll need to remember that for later on.

The first three or four weren’t bad, an introduction to get you’re body used to basically flying through the air attached to a piece of string. Something we surprisingly aren’t supposed to do-Who invented Ziplining? I mean, what were they doing?
Then you got confident, the adrenaline kicks in and you’re ready to go, skipping from track to track. I was on the 9th, 10th, 11- wait. Wait what was that?
Halfway through the penultimate track I saw the next one, and a (fair to say) obese lady simply stopping at the centre of it. Left hanging there overlooking what I was told at the end of the course by a smiling staff member the highest, longest and fastest track.
Haha, silly woman, thinking that was a good idea. Hahaha-wait. I’m next! Oh lord how do I get out of- oh okay I’m guessing I’m being clipped in now.

Well, see where this is going?

I was clipped in and stupidly peered over the edge. It was a long way down. I could picture myself falling down, arriving at the bottom with a sickening crunch. As I set off, accelerating at an alarming pace, that panic came back to me, the reflex came back as well and I applied the brakes. I applied the brakes! Why in all that is holy would I apply the brakes. Now I was stuck there, the wind whipping around me as I rocked from side to side, the cable creaking. I had to pull myself along, which I did. Putting one hand in front of the other as I tried to escape the black void beneath me. I was higher up than the tallest trees, which swayed back and forth. After five minut-five minutes! After five minutes of this I picked up speed and accelerated again, going once more as fast as usual. I was going very fast, so fast in fact that when I put the brakes on at the end, sparks flew out. I was left there on the precipice, breathing at an alarming rate (although this could be mainly due to the exercise I had had to do.) and at the end of the course.

Although my accident was a scary ordeal, I would recommend anyone visiting Monteverde to check out their Ziplining service as it is well worth the money. The staff are incredibly friendly and the café at the end allows some time to unwind!

Monteverde Ziplining

-Elliot