How Not To Climb A Mountain In Africa

How Not To Climb A Mountain In Africa

I’ve so enjoyed reading about Lynne’s successful mountaineering exploits in recent editions of ‘What’s On’ that I’ve decided to (figuratively) put pen to paper to tell you about a spectacular failure.

I have to take you, dear reader, back to East Africa where Lynne had her successes on Mounts Kenya and Kilimanjaro before she went further afield to the Himalayas.

The failed adventure in which I was initially a willing participant was to scale Mount Meru, a more modest 4,562 meters high lump of a collapsed former volcano which is located in northern Tanzania, a distance of some 70 kilometres from the aforesaid Kilimanjaro which peaks at some 5,895 metres.

 

At this point some background context would be useful. The year is 1964 and the country, then called Tanganyika, had gained independence from the British a year or so previously. I was with a group of some 40 young people. A week or so previously we had arrived at an agricultural training school in the town of Arusha, to spend three weeks on an intensive Kiswahili language learning course prior to being dispersed across the new nation as volunteers engaged in diverse development related activities.

Mount Meru, some 20 miles distant, loomed large behind the school. Of course we were all young and enthusiastic and all equally determined to pack as much of Africa as possible into our time there.

The plan was apparently simple, and we were advised by our teacher it would be as follows: be driven to the foot of the mountain on a Saturday morning, walk up towards the summit all day following a track through the lush tropical forest, find a hut to stay the night and on the Sunday morning strike off to the summit on the now gravelly / rocky path.

So, on that fateful Saturday morning we all set off aboard the school’s ex-army canvas sided flat bed lorry with a lot more enthusiasm than we had suitable equipment or preparation.

The first bit of the ascent was easy as we ambled through the coffee plantations on the lower slopes as we exchanged our newly learned greetings of “Jambos” and “Habari ganis” and “Habari za kazi” with the farmers tending their coffee vines on their “shambas”. Leaving the farms, the ascent started to get steeper and the surrounding vegetation somewhat denser, but we were following a sort of path and the spirits were high.

Then we found to our dismay that we were no longer following a path. But what could go wrong? As long as we kept ascending we would be going in the right direction! Remember, the forest was fairly dense and we didn’t really have a clue as to the direction we should be going. Apart from “up”. But as we progressed “up”, we would be met by a steep “down” into one of the many ravines that radiated out from the peak. And so on and on until both darkness and exhaustion overtook us without the possibility of reaching either the elusive hut or indeed any other semblance of shelter.

So, somewhat dejected, we decided to do the best we could to spend the night in the forest, lulled into a fitful sleep by serenading sounds of Africa all around us, only to be sharply awakened by various scary and unidentified animal noises.

We survived the night and next morning we started to retrace our steps back towards civilisation, up and down again across the steep ravines. Eventually we emerged from the forest into the coffee growing “shambas” to be greeted by the farmers with a cheery “Habari za safiri?” (How is the journey?). East African polite convention dictates that a negative answer is not given to such a request for news and the correct response is always “Nzuri sana” (Very good indeed). Whereas, under our breaths, we were actually saying “Mbaya kabisa” (As bad as it can get)!

So, late that Sunday evening we returned to the school, footsore, tired, starving, but happy in the knowledge that in our first week in Africa we had not only been lost in the forest, but we had been able to practice some of our newly acquired Kiswahili in real life situations!

As an end piece I would add that a year or so later I did climb to Gilman’s Point on Kilimanjaro as part of a properly resourced “expedition”. On reaching that summit I had never been as cold and tired as I was that day, nor in my subsequent 55 years. In those days before the onset of climate change there was certainly a lot more snow and ice on the summit than is present today.

A further footnote. In preparing for this piece, I did a bit of googling and found the following:

Mount Meru is a serious three to four-day trek and although it is often used as a practice run by those hoping to summit Kilimanjaro, the smaller mountain is actually the more technical. A guide is mandatory on every trek and there is only one official route up to the summit. The route is well marked with huts along the way offering simple, comfortable beds. Unofficial routes on the west and northern sides of the mountain are illegal. Acclimatization is important, and while you won’t need oxygen, spending at least a few days at altitude before attempting the climb is highly recommended.

Well, in the light of this, we never stood a chance did we?

“Time Traveller”

 



 

My Trip To Tanzania

My Trip To Tanzania

Hi! Hope everyone’s well.

Just wanted to say a thank you once again to everyone that supported me in the run up to my trip to Tanzania. I came back a month earlier than planned because of the current situation with Covid 19, however the month and a half that I did spend out there was an amazing experience which I enjoyed very much.

 

Whilst on the environmental stage of the expedition, where we were planting trees so that a small village could have sustainable resources for the future, I stayed with a Tanzanian family. Seeing how the ways of life differ first hand has really humbled me and made me appreciate what my life is like. I missed out on the section of the trip where we would have built a sanitation block for a primary school. However, Raleigh International are giving me the chance to return this time next year and finish the expedition, which is great.

Thanks once again, I hope everyone has a lovely rest of the summer.

 

Jacob

 



 

About Brass Monkeys

DID YOU KNOW About Brass Monkeys?

In the heyday of sailing ships, all war ships and many freighters carried iron cannons. Those cannons fired round iron cannon balls. It was necessary to keep a good supply near the cannon. However, to prevent them from rolling about the deck, the best storage method devised was a square-based pyramid with one ball on top, resting on four resting on nine, which rested on sixteen. Thus, a supply of 30 cannon balls could be stacked in a small area right next to the cannon. The ‘pyramid’ was stored on a metal plate called a ‘Monkey’ with 16 round indentations. However, if this plate were made of iron, the iron balls would quickly rust to it. The solution to the rusting problem was to make ‘Brass Monkeys.’ Brass contracts much more and much faster than iron when chilled. Consequently, when the temperature dropped too far, the brass indentations would shrink so much that the iron cannonballs would come right off the monkey; Thus, it was quite literally, ‘Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey.’



 

A Visit To A Museum And A Hard Day’s Night

A VISIT TO A MUSEUM AND A HARD DAY’S NIGHT

We had started out rather late as the museum did not open early. It was a small museum on the shore of a Norwegian fjord, and it celebrated the heroism of a local resistance fighter who opposed the Nazi invasion of his homeland in 1940. After a fascinating look around the many and poignant exhibits, we walked with our skis and rucksacks to the nearby jetty where a boat was waiting to ferry us across the cold fjord to the opposite bank.

The crossing in a high-speed boat, provided by the Norwegian Marines, did not take long and we quickly disembarked near a small wooden hut where one of the resistance fighters had spent many weeks hiding during the war. He had frostbite in the unheated hut and to avoid gangrene, which he knew would kill him, he cut off his black fingers with a penknife. We silently paid tribute to such bravery before hoisting our rucksacks, clicking into our ski bindings, and moving off across the fresh snow.

Soon we were pushing our way up the steep hillside through young silver birch trees; they made the going tough. After fighting our way through the dense trees, we were hot and sweaty but at least we could now press on to ascend a distant ridge and drop down to a small village where we were to spend the night sleeping in the gym of a school. After the wood, the ascent steepened and we soon found ourselves in a wide gully down which a stream had been flowing, but now in March, it was just a mass of ice covering the rocks. This required care as a slip would have sent me hurtling down from ledge to ledge to the bottom which was well over one hundred feet below. A couple of us took off their skis while others side stepped up the snow which covered the ice. It was very slow going.

At last, the small party was assembled at the top of the gully and before us was a gentler snowfield that led to the distant ridge. It was now late afternoon and while waiting for the last of the party to catch up we dug a hole in the snow to check on the profile and the stability of the crust. The snow layers looked stable and when the last person arrived, we pushed on to the ridge. The shadow of the skier in front was long now and I realised we were rather late to be on the ridge.

It was downhill from the ridge to the valley below, an easy run on skis and our spirits were high. The maps did not clearly show the best line to take so we skied down only to find that we were at the top of a high cliff. This was frustrating and time-consuming as we had to take our skis off – put the skins back under them which allowed us to ski back up to the ridge. After we had repeated this exercise a few times it was pitch black, and we were navigating with head torches, map and compass. The cold made replacing batteries in head torches difficult as our fingers were frozen.

By about one o’clock in the morning, we were tired and unable to find a suitable route down. It was bitterly cold, and the wind was strong. I decided we had better spend the night where we were, in relative safety. So, we decided to dig two snow holes in the steep bank, each one would take 3 of us. We removed our skis and took shovels and snow saws from our packs and began to dig fast which kept us warm. After forty minutes the small caves in the bank of snow were big enough and we squeezed in, blocking the entry hole with the largest rucksack once we were all inside. The change was dramatic as suddenly there was no howling wind and by the light of our head torches, we settled down like sardines to try and sleep – I was exhausted.

I tossed and turned but being in the middle of the three of us I was probably the warmest. After a few hours, I moved the rucksack from the door and found that dawn was breaking. So, I went out and stood looking at the drop below us and realised how lucky we had been to stop where we did. I tried to make a call on my mobile phone, but my shivering fingers could not hit the keys because of the cold.

Just then I saw a flashing light, a strobe, miles away down the valley. It had to be a helicopter looking for us as we were overdue, but it quickly disappeared. Minutes later a crewman appeared on foot as the helicopter had carefully followed our ski tracks and landed out of sight above us. Wearing a flying helmet, overalls and life jacket he looked like someone from another world. He asked if we were all OK and whether we would need a lift off the mountain? I explained that we were British and fine thank you, but the offer of a lift was too good to refuse.

In a very short time, the six of us were in the big noisy smelly beast and just a few minutes later we landed at the school, thanked the crew profusely, and soon we were asleep in our bags on the floor of the gym. It had been a night to remember.

Kindly contributed by a Wenvoe resident

 



 

Walk Leader’s Adventures

Walk Leader’s Adventures

Boris and Mark urged and encouraged people to “Stay Local” in the early days of the lockdown due to the Coronavirus. As the lockdown is eased and people are actively being persuaded to have a staycation, it seems appropriate to leave Mt Kenya, Mt Kilimanjaro and the Himalayas to describe a more local adventure…on Mt Snowdon.

Snowdon (Yr Wyddfa in Welsh) is the highest mountain in Wales and England (1085m) and can offer views of Pembrokeshire, Anglesey and Ireland on a clear day. On my many ascents, I have never been fortunate to see that far!

The first recorded ascent of Snowdon was by Thomas Johnson in 1639. My plan was to take a group of 15 European students from an English Language summer school to follow in Johnson’s footsteps. The 16-18 year old students had come to a Language school in Shropshire for a month, to improve their English. They did English language activities in the mornings and sports and cultural activities and visits in the afternoon. As the Sports teacher, I decided to offer the students the opportunity to experience Welsh culture and challenge themselves to climb in the wild and magnificent Snowdonia landscape.

An excited and excitable group set off from the Language school. The mini bus was filled with a reverberation of cheerful students making themselves understood in an assortment of languages. On board we had students from Spain, France, Portugal, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Denmark: and they were determined to share their thoughts and communicate!

We arrived at the Pen y Pass car park ready for the 6 hours return journey to the peak and back. We were well prepared: the route had been planned, weather forecast had been checked and the students had appropriate footwear and equipment. Food, water, first aid kits, whistles and insulated foil blankets were carried in small rucksacks. We were ready for any eventuality! Or so we thought!

We set off along the Miners track. The Miners Path was built to carry copper from the Britannia Copper Works near Llyn Glaslyn to Pen y Pass, where it was transported to Caernarfon. Remains of the mining works could be seen as we steadily climbed. The views were glorious as the sun shone down on green grassy hillsides and the water sparkled as we passed by the lakes of Llyn Teyrn, across Y Cob Causeway to Llyn Llydaw. Chatter had changed to a hum as the climbing took its toil on the slope near Llyn Glaslyn. We stopped for lunch.

Mountain weather can be unpredictable and changeable. And change came. What had started off

as a walk under sunny, blue skies changed rapidly as we ate lunch into a “white out”. Thick mist descended upon us and it was impossible to see the whole party even though we were tightly packed onto the hillside above the lake, which was now invisible to us, concealed by the fog. I was anxious and felt apprehensive about continuing as I knew there was a steep and tricky climb ahead, often requiring the use of hands. I was in a dilemma; should I descend?

And then….out of the mist emerged a mountain guide and his sheep dog….He asked if everything was going okay. I explained how I was in a predicament about continuing the climb. The students were keen to continue but not knowing how bad the visibility was up ahead, I did not want to put anyone at risk. The guide then offered to take us to the summit, and return us to the start of the climb. What a hero!!

In very poor visibility, we followed the guide and his dog up the zig zags to Bwlch Glas and reached the summit after a further gentle walk. There was no view of Ireland or Pembroke to greet us, but the students congratulated each other in a multitude of languages and took numerous pictures of themselves with the dog.

As we descended the Pyg track and reached Bwlch y Moch, the mist lifted and we were treated to splendid views down the Llanberis pass. When we reached the mini bus, the guide left us. The students thought I had arranged for the guide and the dog to guide us …..and I am sure their adventure on Snowdon has passed into English Language Schools Folklore.

When we do meet again at Barry Island or Cosmeston on our Living with Cancer walk or Carers walk, I promise that if a mist descends I will get you back to the car park! I hope to see you soon on a walk. Valeways are expecting to restart their led walks in mid August, so check out the programme on their website.

 



 

Vale For Africa Eyecare Trip 2018

VALE FOR AFRICA EYECARE TRIP 2018

It was through my work that I first heard of local charity Vale for Africa and of their annual trip to Uganda. Vale for Africa works with a local African charity/NGO called ACET, to improve healthcare and education in the Tororo district of eastern Uganda.

They say it is good to push ourselves out of our comfort zone, and so it was that I signed up to be part of the 2018 team. The trip takes place at the end of August. By February our team members had all been confirmed and 6 months of planning began. Our team consisted of 5 working optometrists, alongside local retired optometrist Ted Arbuthnot and his wife, retired GP Dr Hilary Bugler. A week before the trip we gathered at Ted and Hilary’s home to distribute the kit/equipment, paperwork, and gifts/t-shirts to distribute in Tororo. I did return home that day with a full suitcase and wondered where I was putting my ‘personal’ gear – packing lightly is not one of my strengths!

We gathered at Cardiff airport on Friday 24th August, brimming with excitement and also a few nerves. The journey went smoothly; two flights and a few films later, we touched down in Entebbe airport. It would not be possible to reach Tororo that same day and so we spent one night in Uganda’s capital, Kampala. An early start the next morning allowed us to break our journey at Jinja ‘the source of the Nile’, to take in some amazing African wildlife. By late afternoon on Sunday 26th August we reached Tororo town and had our first glimpse of the distinctive Tororo Rock.

Our accommodation for the week was at the Benedictine Nunnery Although basic, it was comfortable and a welcome peaceful haven at the end of each day. An impressive thunderstorm and the resulting power cut on that first night did make me wonder what the next few days would bring!

The work started in earnest the next morning. The project relies on working with a team of local volunteers who are invaluable; some carrying out some ‘pre-screening’ checking of vision and some helping us with translation and giving patient instructions. These volunteers are known as the Visual Acuity Testers (VATs).

Most have been involved with the project for several years. They now know well what needs to be done to help the clinics run smoothly. The first morning was run as a refresher training session for the VATs, before our first clinics in the afternoon.

In our clinics we had anyone and everyone from babes in arms to a lady whose age on her paperwork simply read ‘80+’. The vast majority of these patients would never have seen a doctor, dentist or optometrist before in their lives.

It is difficult to explain just how different the clinics are from those at home, where we are all very lucky to have the latest technology to help us in our work.

At home I might see an average of 10-12 patients a day; we averaged 40 a day in Tororo.

Each morning the team of VATs had often been there an hour or two ahead of us, setting up what they could in advance – each day my buddy Joseph would already have hung some makeshift curtains in whatever room we were to be based in, as too much light makes it difficult to examine inside the eyes.

The other thing I initially found somewhat disconcerting but soon got used to was ‘performing’ in front of an audience. At one of the schools we were based at, Joseph ushered me into ‘our’ room to be greeted by at least 20 pairs of eyes watching my every move as I unpacked for the day. There were school benches that had all been pushed to the side of the room, so of course they would sit there to wait their turn.

As expected, we saw a wide range of eye conditions. For many this meant their first pair of glasses – and for several hundred people a simple pair of reading glasses would be life changing. We saw plenty of other ‘interesting’ things but, unexpectedly, it was these people whose lives could be changed by a £3 pair of reading glasses that touched me most of all. We helped a seamstress and a local government worker who had given up work because of their ‘poor vision’ and would now be able to carry on working for perhaps another 10 years.

In Tororo town is the Benedictine Eye Hospital, to which we could refer patients who needed treatment including cataract surgery (and Vale for Africa covers the cost of the surgery for these patients) and eyedrops for the treatment of Glaucoma.

In total between our team of 5 we saw just over 700 patients, almost 100 of whom needed cataract surgery. This may seem a drop in the ocean compared to Uganda’s population of 42 million, but you couldn’t help but feel we really were making a difference to those people we saw.

On the final night we were treated to a wonderful evening with those we had worked with during the week, with a very fine meal and some amazing African dancing – a memorable way to round off the trip. We set off early the next morning to begin our long journey home from Tororo to Entebbe airport and on to Wales. I was coming home tired, but with wonderful memories, new friendships, and a little piece of Tororo and its wonderful people in my heart.

The 2020 trip has, like so many other events, sadly been cancelled, but I very much hope to be on that plane to Entebbe again in 2021. If anyone would like to know more about Vale for Africa and the work they do take a look at www.valeforafrica.org.uk where you can find a donation link and more information on how to get involved.

Dawn Saville

 



 

A Day To Remember On Skis

A DAY TO REMEMBER ON SKIS

It was a Saturday morning in the early spring and I had woken up in Chamonix, the historic town in the heart of the French alps under the shadow of the mighty Mont Blanc. We were having a rest day and planned to do one of the longest ski descents in Europe, a 20 km run called the Vallee Blanche. But first breakfast was calling and off we went to the restaurant for our baguette, croissants and coffee. Candidly we never felt that the French quite hit the mark with their breakfasts, but they were just about worth get-ting out of bed for.

Vallee Blanche

It was rather inconvenient that the main cable car we needed to use to reach the Aiguille du Midi, our starting point, was closed for repairs so we decided to drive our minibus through the Mont Blanc tunnel into Italy and to take the cable car up from that side. Hearing our conversation over breakfast a French mountain guide asked if he could join us, as he too had the day off and would like to ski the Vallee Blanche with us. So we welcomed Yves to the party and set off for Italy. We caught the first possible cable car to reach Pointe Helbronner from where we could put on our skis and ski down to join our original route back to Chamonix.

Sadly the weather at the top station was awful, a full white out which is a condition when the sky and snow appear as a white sheet in front of you which makes skiing and navigation really tricky. So we drank the inevitable coffees until it cleared. When it did we shot out of the door to make up for lost time and readied ourselves for this challenging ski descent down a glacier. As we lined up, Yves asked if he might lead us down and we thought that was a good idea as, being a Chamonix guide, he would know the safest route. So he went first, followed by John our guide who carried a rope, and I skied at the back of the group with a spare rope. We all started off in high spirits.

It was good to be skiing at last. Yves called back that we should follow his tracks as he picked his way be-tween the visible crevasses of the Geant glacier. After a few minutes, Yves and John stopped and we all pulled up, keeping a safe distance between each other. Yves had decided to rope up with John so that if he fell down an unseen crevasse John would be able to arrest his fall with the rope. Being guides they were quick and professional and in a few minutes, someone shouted that Yves had gone. I replied that was fine and we would follow on shortly. “No – he has really gone!” came the reply. In fact, as soon as he had skied off he had fallen straight down a deep crevasse. John had done a textbook arrest by simply dropping down with his skis at a right angle to the pull of the rope, which otherwise might have dragged him in on top of Yves. I told everyone to stay still and went forward with my spare rope ready to carry out a much-practised crevasse rescue of Yves. First I had to establish a belay or anchor, so I took off my skis and thrust the first one deep into the snow – to my horror the snow, about the size of a table, fell away at my feet and I was staring into a deep ice-cold blue crevasse and I was about to fall into it. Quickly I put my skis back on to spread my weight and I moved towards John. A crevasse fall is very serious. It can result in a head injury or broken bones which make extraction more difficult. In the worst case the victim becomes wedged at the bottom, where the sides narrow, and body heat melts the ice which soon refreezes and locks the body to the ice. In this case we knew from his shouts that Yves was uninjured and together we set up a pulley system and hauled Yves out, not without a few Gallic expletives on his part. Alas, he had lost a ski down the crevasse but was otherwise fine; only his pride was hurt. We were lucky to get away so lightly from this potentially dangerous incident.

Shocked as he was he insisted on leading again, now skiing with great skill and balance on a single ski. Amazingly he soon disappeared over the lip of an-other crevasse, but this time John had him on a tight-rope and he did not go far down. Again we pulled him out but we had a long descent to make which on his one ski would have been very difficult. So we made our way to the Requin hut at the side of the glacier where the kindly guardian gave us coffee and found a spare ski for Yves to use. Our adrenalin reserves were running low – it was good to take a breath.

We were now past the Geant icefall and the crevasse risk was behind us, so we skied down happily as far as we could to a point where the snow runs out. Here we took off our boots and put on the trainers we had packed in our rucksacks for the hike up a steep path, to join a modern metal staircase which had been built to give summer visitors easy access to the glacier. At the top of the steps was the small train station of Montenvers. This was the end of the line for a narrow-gauge railway, using a rack and pinion system, which was built in 1908 for the Victorian tourists. How we wished the service was running that day, but sadly it was not so we set off for the long walk back to Chamonix. Our various diversions had set us back so the sun was setting as we reached the town where we quenched our thirsts with good French beers at the Bar National. It really had been a day to remember.

 



 

Trekking in the Himalayas

After my adventures in Kenya, and particularly, on Mt Kenya and Mt Kilimanjaro, it was time to leave Africa. Before leaving I received a phone call from BBC Radio Wales: my dad had rung in to tell them I was embarking on a trip to Everest. The interviewer tried to hide his disappointment when I said I was going trekking in the Himalayas, and would more than likely see Everest, but the intention was to bypass it rather than ascend the highest mountain in the world!

The plan was for myself and Jayne, a school friend from Wenvoe, to travel to India and Nepal and trek independently for 4-5 weeks through the Himalayas. Since the first ascent of Mt Everest, over 60 years ago, the Himalayas have become far more accessible to walkers. Hindu scriptures say that in “a hundred ages of the gods”, you could not do justice to the Himalayas. Choosing where to trek in this vast area (10 times the size of France) was difficult. We wanted to experience some of the highest mountains, gorges, forests, flowers, orchards, wild rivers, snow and sunshine that this region offers, as well as gain an insight into the different religions and cultures of the people who live in this area. We decided to start from Pokhara.

We flew into the bustling city of Delhi, where ear muffs to drown out the constant noise of horns, would have been a useful accessory. We arranged our bus transfer from Delhi to Kathmandu, then Pokhara. A crowded bus, with no air conditioning, but numerous live chickens, was our first challenge; the second was constantly saying “NO” to the insistent hands and pleading eyes of  villagers trying to sell us snacks through the bus windows at every stop.

Travel Route

Pokhara is a city on Phewa Lake and a gateway to many treks. The start of our trek was delayed by the onslaught of “Delhi belly”, something that my usual walkers at Cosmeston or Barry Island do not need to worry about!

Pokhara

Fully recovered and with rucksacks packed, we loaded ourselves onto the back of an open truck and were transported through the hills to start our trek. We knew there was a network of basic lodges to stay in, which provided local food so carried clothes and essential toiletries to get us through the next weeks. Lunch provisions had been brought from Wales: packets of crackers and jars of peanut butter! I am not sure Edmund Hillary had similar nutritional ideas when he made his final ascent but we thought instant energy would be important! The Nepalese children were intrigued by the peanut butter and were delighted to be offered a jar.

Trek Locations

We had deliberately chosen to do our trekking in April as there is no monsoon, the skies tend to be clearer and the hillsides are full of the most spectacular displays of bright red rhododendrons. Our trek was to take us through many small settlements and as we passed the villages of Landruk and Ghandruk we had stunning views of the Annapurna range. Ghandruk is a typical village of Gurungs with idyllic rural scenes, forests and a diversity of birds in the oak forests. At Tatopani, we had the luxury of immersing ourselves in hot springs. Tatopani means hot water in Nepali and the village gets its name from the hot springs that emanate from the rocks below the Kali Gandaki  river. The majority of people here are of ethnic Sherpa and Tamang. In Ghorepani( 3210m),  we got up early to climb Poon Hill and watch the sun rise over the colossal peak of Dhaulagiri, the 7th highest peak in the world. It was not a huge effort to get ourselves up as we had spent the night on straw beds in the kitchen in our lodging! The walking itself was not too difficult: there were trails to follow, friendly locals to point us in the right direction(always greeting us with a “Namaste”), rope bridges across gorges to navigate, the Kali Kandaki river to follow and narrow wooden beds in home stays or a mattress in a lodge, to rest up in between the walking.

Muktinath Vishnu Temple

Muktinath was the highest point on the trail (3710m).Muktinath is a Vishnu Temple, sacred to both Hindus and Buddhists. It is located at the foot of the Thorong La mountain pass and is one of the world’s highest temples.  It is an impressive sight and is visited by thousands of Hindu and Buddhist pilgrims every year. We were fortunate to have the place almost to ourselves. The peace and tranquillity of the temple, the awe inspiring snow covered mountains that surrounded us and the bright blue skies above us combined together to ensure this was the highlight of the trip.

AT Jomson there is a local airport, where many trekkers return by small planes to Pokhara.  Not us, we were walking back. The highlight on the return journey was Birethanti (1100m), a small village set at the foot of the Modi Khola valley. Mule trains set off from here to deliver goods to less well connected villages. Final stop was Nayapul, where a friendly truck driver picked us up and returned us to the relative comfort of a Pokhara hotel. After 30 days walking we could remove our walking boots!

In Nepal, the scenery, people and walking on our trek was special. But Cosmeston and Barry Island are special too:  you will be offered great scenery, a warm welcome, fresh air and time to reflect…… looking forward to meeting up again soon.

 

Namaste!

 



 

Covid 19 Repatriaton Saga

THE FIRST….HOPEFULLY THE LAST

I’ve never been repatriated before but then I’ve never been in the middle of a pandemic before. COVID 19 was already in Britain before I left. Going abroad didn’t seem like a good idea but as the holiday company hadn’t cancelled, I went. Even getting there was a trial, with an hour and a half spent standing in a hot and frustrated queue of people waiting to get a health and temperature check before being allowed onto Cape Verde. Just 7 out of the 15 of us had decided to brave it.

The first couple of days meant more travel. An internal flight to a smaller island, walks, dinner, a ferry the next day to an even smaller island and all the while the group discussing how long it would be before trouble struck. On the third day of our trip we experienced a glorious full day walk in the Cape Verdean sunshine. Think the Great Wall of China meets the terraces of Machu Picchu. Our homestay was in a remote village; beers bought from the one shop that services the small cluster of houses and food wonderfully fresh and local. We finally found ourselves in a proper holiday mood. Another day’s walking in the striking scenery meant we settled in for dinner with some optimism that we might actually get a holiday. Cape Verde is a delight for walking and our island felt removed from any of the worries and stresses of our everyday lives. The mood was chilled as we shared dinner and chatted about the days behind us and the experiences shared. When we fell quiet for our briefing on the next day, the news came as if never expected. Cape Verde had closed its borders and we were being repatriated.

The first question was how to get home from this beautiful but remote destination. There is a vague plan to fly us through several European countries. We are all instantly subdued.

Both the ferry port and the airport are busy with overseas visitors heading home. We desperately try and spend some of our local currency and get a good meal whilst we can. We land on a God awful flat salt plain of an island, popular with tourists for its sandy beaches and clear seas and at least our resort has lovely bars on the waterfront for a few beers in the sun. The hotel we stay in hosts us and one other couple. The local guide tells us that we should expect to fly to Luxembourg the next day and then Heathrow via Paris the day after. It sounds like a plan but worryingly, we have no paperwork to support these travel arrangements. It’s a really uncomfortable feeling and the stress levels are clear in all of us but we put on a good show of dealing with it. I think we are all comforted by knowing that we are in this together and we trust that we will look after one other. The experience is bonding.

Several phone calls the next morning get us through to a lady from our travel company called Emily and she quickly responds to our request and sends us the flight details, airline locator number and flight numbers and using the hotel Wi-Fi we manage to check in on-line for the first flight and book ourselves a hotel for the night in Luxembourg.

There is a strong hope that we don’t get stuck there; the budget would be severely stretched by the cost of a lockdown there. The airport in Sal is chaotic. The staff are in masks and gloves, the travellers are edgy and arguments at the check-in desks add to the heated atmosphere. The departure lounge is full. No-one is able to settle for long ,wanting to be first in the queue for their flight in case the plane is overbooked. Bizarrely, when we queue for the plane we are asked to keep 2 metres apart, everyone fully aware that once on the plane we will be rammed in like sardines. In spite of all the stresses, we are delighted to be on the plane and on our way to Europe. The flight goes without incident and also without food; the planes are only carrying water and some biscuits.

In Luxembourg, the total insanity of the whole thing continues as our taxi to the hotel gets lost. In the other taxi, they break down twice and have to get out and push! Once at the hotel the nice young man at reception tries to deal with the difficulty of 7 rooms all booked in the same name having been rejected by the computer, processing our passports and getting us our room keys whilst the hotel manager berates us for all standing in the reception area. ‘Only 3 people at a time’ he says ‘or the police will arrest us’. He cannot believe that those rules were not in place where we came from or in Britain. We are too tired to argue or to move; the priority being getting to bed for another early start.

Next day we arrive at an eerily deserted airport. Outside, it starts to snow. The whole thing is beyond surreal. Unexpectedly our flight boards on time and is full, of people but no food. We sit on the runway as they de-ice the plane for take off, watching the snow through the window and feeling very thankful that this country is not brought to a halt by a sprinkling of the white stuff. Next stop Paris and an equally deserted Charles De Gaulle airport. We have 8 hours to kill here and even though there are still no guarantees of the next flight, we all have some hope of actually getting back home. The departure board reads a long list of flights cancelled but ours slowly creeps round. With a tangible surge of relief we board and the last leg of our epic journey gets underway. I’d love that to be the end of the tribulations but of course there is always more.

We make it home but our bags don’t so we queue in Heathrow to fill out lost luggage forms and say our farewell to each other. Hugs all round are well deserved but we make do with elbow bumps and I waste no time getting a taxi back to the hotel where my car has been sitting for 7 days. The gravity of the situation at home hits me as I find the hotel where my car is parked in complete lockdown; 6 burly security guards on the front entrance. Stopping on the way home for a coffee and a break would be sensible but I drive straight back and fall into the house for the glass of wine that has had my name on it for the last 3 days. Two days later we are in lockdown.

By Sue Hoddell

A Walk Leader’s Adventures

WALK LEADER’S ADVENTURES

Returning from a Kenyan safari in 1932, Ernest Hemingway had many trophies including buffalo hides and rhino horns. Four years later, in ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro’, Hemingway described the summit of Kilimanjaro as ‘wide as all the world, great, high and unbelievably white in the sun’.

 

With no Living with Cancer or Carers walks to report on, attention turns again to the youthful experiences of this Walk Leader in ascending Mt Kilimanjaro – a dormant volcano in Tanzania. It is the highest mountain in Africa and the highest free standing mountain in the world at 5,895 metres above sea level. For this adventure 12 teachers, two 18 year old past pupils and the Head Teacher’s son made up the group.

An essential part of any venture outdoors is to ensure you are well prepared. On Kilimanjaro, the trekkers had a hard job collecting the down jackets, thermals, boots and woollen socks that were necessary for the trip, as living and working in Mombasa required little more clothing than shorts, T-shirts and cool cotton clothes to teach in. Most of the party begged or borrowed equipment from visiting relatives who were asked to add socks and bobble hats to their luggage of sandals and sunhats!

The convoy of three cars rattled and rolled along dirt tracks from Mombasa to the border. Here the guards took a particular interest in the cassettes we were playing and made it clear that the price of crossing the border was to ‘gift’ a large number of these cassettes to them! We arrived at our hotel just outside the Kilimanjaro National Park and excitedly planned for an early start the next day.

Day 1. We met our porters and guides at the Marangu Gate, the entrance to the park. The porters would carry our food, water and cooking gas whilst we would carry day packs with essential items: drinking water, snacks, spare clothes. The hike to our first stop, the Mandara Hut, 2,715m, would be about 5 hours through montane forest. The forest trail followed a stream, and we spent most of the trek in a thick mist under trees.

Porters

The main advice for high altitude trekking is, ‘GO SLOWLY’ or ‘Pole, Pole’ in Swahili. For the fitter, younger members of our group this proved difficult, even though they had been told to walk slowly and enjoy the scenery. Coming from 0 metres in Mombasa, the altitude was always going to be a challenge, so there were constant reminders to slow down: the slower you walk the more time is given for the body to acclimatise.

The Mandara hut was a welcome sight; the party settled down for the night. Everybody had made it.

Mandera Hut

Day 2. We set off to the Horombo hut, at 3,705m. We walked through a short section of forest before emerging into moorland. Here we could see the giant lobelia and giant groundsel. In the distance we could see, tantalizingly, the peak of Kibo.

Moreland Walk

At the Horombo hut, the trek, unfortunately, finished for one member of our group. David, a very fit and active sportsman, who had followed all the advice was showing symptoms of altitude sickness. He had a splitting headache, was nauseous and felt exhausted. The guide advised he should descend immediately, as a drop in altitude is one of the most effective treatments. Reluctantly, we said goodbye to David, as he set off down the mountain with a guide.

Horombo Huts

 

Day 3. We set off on the 9km trek to the Kibo hut, 4.730m, all agreeing to go at a snail’s pace. We were now in an alpine desert. We all arrived at the Kibo hut and looked towards the peak. The summit was another 1,190m away and we were going to make the ascent that night. We went to bed around 6pm and were woken at 11pm.

Kibo Hut

Day 4. The path to the summit zig-zagged up the mountain on stone scree. All I could see were small patches of light ahead and behind me as our group’s head torches bobbed in the darkness. All I wanted to do was sleep. I had a headache. I felt sick. I wanted to sleep. I wanted to sit down. Everybody felt the same. We encouraged each other to stumble, shuffle and struggle upwards. The sun rose….we were on the top of the mountain. It felt like we were on top of the world. And unbelievably, in the distance we could see Mt Kenya.Feelings of nausea and exhaustion subsided. Elation, exhilaration and excitement took over. Photos were taken and then the descent. We were to walk to the Horombo hut, a total of 15kms and a day’s total walking of 14 hours. The descent seemed like we were walking on air; the effects of the altitude subside as you descend. The Horombo hut was a very welcome sight and we sank into the bunk beds.

Day 5. Back the way we came. We were welcomed by a disappointed but healthy David, who joined in with the celebration beers.

Physical and mental stamina helped us to the summits of Mt Kenya and Mt Kilimanjaro. Cosmeston and Barry Island strolls may not offer the same extreme physical and mental challenges as these mountains, but the companionship, the sense of achievement and pleasure and enjoyment from being outdoors will be the same.

The Group

 

 

Lynne Frugniet

 



 

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