MYSCOTRAIL - SPIRIT OF SCOTLAND - WINTER 2017.

Tuesday 5th December

On this Scotrail Adventure we will be using the Spirit of Scotland pass which currently has a 20% Discount between 1st November 2017 and 28th February 2018, and we would highly recommend trying it.  Our goal on this journey was the challenge of making the most of Scotland using the Spirit of Scotland pass which includes travel on select trains, buses/coaches and ferries getting to a variety of destinations doing something fun that people of all ages can take part in, whether travelling solo, with friends, or with family. An adventure to showcase travelling to places you wouldn't normally think of going, and taking part in activities that can be enjoyed during the winter months. 

Today was a nice early start getting the 3hr 47min train from Glasgow Queen Street to Fort William whilst sipping on some hot tea we were served on the train and our snacks, with some beautiful views along the West Coast of Scotland that definitely didn't disappoint. The good thing about travelling on the train is being able to take in the views. After a pleasant journey on the train we headed to Nevis Range Mountain Resort

(www.nevisrange.co.uk) (www.Neviscycles.com). 

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When arriving at Nevis Range we were introduced to a friendly face that was Emma Holgate, a local Mountain Bike guide.  Emma was going to be our helpful guide on the hills today, but before we hit the hills we all got to know one another over a very yummy lunch served at the local cafe which was amazing. A quick change of clothes followed, then it was time for some intense Mountain Biking with Emma, who was full of smiles and ready to go. Myself and Jawn were extremely excited about this activity, Jawn is really into biking and commutes daily on his bike to work, and I'm a keen mountain biker.  It was a little overcast, slightly raining and snow on the hills, but the weather wasn't stopping us, and we were ready to get out on the track.  Fort William is internationally known for hosting the Mountain Bike World Cup every year which was another reason both myself and Jawn were very excited to have a go on this world renowned track.  You don't always need to get a local mountain bike guide to take you out on the track, as you can also go yourself, or take your family and follow the signs that are all clearly marked for the different routes from easy to hard.  But we wanted to make sure we got all the hot insider tips from the awesome Emma on the tracks so we could ride our best and get the most from the experience.

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The mountain biking was coming to an end, we had to get moving to our next adventure, after a fun filled time going fast down the Scottish Hills in Fort William with our local guide Emma. We grabbed ourselves a hot chocolate and a wee slice of cake from the cafe. Do make sure you get some cake, its really good, and we will definitely be back again not just for the biking but for some more cake. 

 We then got the 20 minute number 21 bus from Nevis Range to Fort William bus station,  making sure we caught the next bus, number 44 to Kinlochleven which would take around 50 minutes before a short walk to Ice Factor for our next activity.  Ever since retiring from professional Ice Hockey and the adrenaline involved in the sport l have become very fond of climbing, which I am sure you will see from other blog posts and my photo sets. l was super excited about this next activity... Ice Climbing at Ice Factor (www.ice-factor.co.uk) with the worlds biggest indoor Ice Climbing walls.  Yes! Loved this activity.

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When you think of Ice climbing, normally people tend to think the French Alps, Canada, Norway and don't ever think Scotland, but Scotland has some of the best outdoor ice climbing in the world, and even better that you can ice climb year round with the help of the  indoor walls at Ice Factor, perfecting your skills.  If you have never ice climbed before or don't have any of the gear, don't worry! They have all the gear that they will happily provide and you can book in with an instructor who will teach you the ropes, if you don't have a chance to go with a friend that is experienced. It's a lot of fun no matter which you choose.

 Myself and Jawn were booked in for a 2 hour slot on the ice walls, and Jawn had never been climbing before nor belayed anyone, so l ran through the basics with him. It didn't take long for Jawn to get into the rhythm and feel of working with the ropes.  Before l knew it Jawn was getting stuck in on the ice wall getting over a few of his fears and gaining his confidence which was great to see.  After an epic time on the wall, we were ready for some food after a long fun filled day and even better seeing the massive smile on Jawn’s face after ice climbing.  

 We got the 9.30pm, number 44 bus back to Fort William grabbing some snacks from a local store, then a short walk to our hotel for the night before the next activity we had awaiting us.


 

Wednesday 6th December

Another early start, catching the 7.30am bus from Fort William bus station to Inverness which was just short of 2 hours.  The journeys never feel that long with the views and especially if chatting with friends. We had not eaten breakfast yet, but we had heard that Rendezvous cafe did great food and Jawn and l were craving pancakes, so that's what we went for. We then headed to Clansmen Harbour to meet Jacobite Cruise (www.Jacobite.co.uk).  The pancakes were delicious btw, exactly what we needed before our cruise.

When arriving at the Clansmen Harbour we were a bit early for our cruise, but thankfully there was a nice cafe so we grabbed a quick coffee then headed down to the harbour boarding the Jacobite Freedom Cruise for some Nessie spotting and to explore the ruins of Urquhart Castle.  If you don't know who Nessie is, Nessie is the Loch Ness Monster who has been spotted in the famous Scottish Loch Ness.  The cruise was great, the crew were all really nice and the tour guide was extremely cheery on the speaker giving you a full insight about some of the history of Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle.  Sometimes it can be quite windy and cold on the ferry but there is an inside section which is very cosy and warm, plus sells hot drinks and lots of delicious snacks.  

The ferry ride is around 30 minutes before you arrive at the stunning Urquhart Castle and the beautiful views surrounding it with the option to stay on the ferry for a tour slightly further down Loch Ness or get off and explore the castle, with some extra time to visit the museum, shop or even the cafe if you need more hot drinks. Scotland can get very cold, especially this time of year, so hot drinks are always welcome. As you'll see we were fond of a warm top up. 

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Urquhart Castle is exactly the type you would imagine to see in a fairy tale, and even with all its history and the past events that have happened at Urquhart Castle it is still very stunning and the surroundings very picturesque. We spent roughly an hour before the Jacobite Freedom Cruise came back to pick us up which worked out perfectly, we made sure to sit outside on the ferry this time even though it was windy to embrace the crisp fresh Scottish cold air before arriving back at Clansman Harbour.  We definitely felt the chill of the wind when we got back so we made sure to grab a nice warm bowl of soup from the cafe connected to the Clansman Hotel warming us up before catching the number 302 bus from Clansman Hotel back to Inverness.

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On this journey so far it almost seems like we have went from activity to cafe, to activity then back to a cafe, having fun not only at the activities but getting to meet local faces, and indulge in nice warm hot drinks and tasty local food along the way which has added to the overall experience.  I am a true believer and supporter of always think local first, you're giving back to your community, and the majority of the time you always end up meeting some of the coolest friendliest local people, whilst getting great traditional Scottish food and often an insight into the area that you wouldn't normally pickup.

 

After our day exploring Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle we arrived back in Inverness making sure we caught the 5.30pm Train to Aviemore taking around 44 minutes.  We had a room booked in Cairngorm Hotel which is directly across the road from the train station making it super easy.  We dumped our bags in the room then quickly made our way back onto the main street in Aviemore keeping an eye out for another local cafe and any local sites. We found ourselves at Cairngorm Mountain Sports Cafe, grabbing a delicious hot chocolate with lots of marshmallows and each picking from one of the many delicious choices of cakes on offer.  After our yummy hot chocolates and cakes, we headed back to the hotel grabbing some snacks on the way, catching an early night sleep before our next adventure day.

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Thursday 7th December

Today we were a little worried by what the weather forecast had said, bad weather and storms. Uhoh. It may seem like it's not always the best to be up North in Scotland at this time, but this is exactly why we are here right?  To see what we can do in the winter months, and there were plenty of helpful locals around if needed, so perfecting timing.

 First thing first, we made sure we got some good food in our bellies, hotel breakfast it was which was great! After having a yummy filling breakfast the weather forecast was still saying bad weather, our plans were to visit the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre and take the Funicular Lift up to the top of Cairngorm Mountain.  Unfortunately the Funicular was closed due to bad weather but we still had hopes that the Reindeer Centre was not closed.  We took our chance getting the number 31 Bus from Aviemore to Glenmore Visitor Centre taking only 14 minutes. Easy! When we arrived at Glenmore Visitor Centre, the Reindeer centre was only a short walk away, and we were praying that they would still be open. Good news! As we asked the lady she said they are open during all types of weather, the reindeers love winter right? and the tour guide started in 30 minutes on the hill.  

 There are reindeer stables attached to the reindeer centre that have some reindeer in them along with information about all the reindeer for if you don't want to go on the hills, especially for younger children, which l thought was really good.  It was also very accessible for anyone who may have a disability.  The Reindeer Centre also supplies some wellies and gloves if you don't have the appropriate clothing, which can be a lifesaver for some, and they also do car rides to the area where the deer are. Then its a short walk to meet the reindeer with the guide.  You also have the option to walk to the location of where the tour takes place which takes anywhere between 30 minutes to an hour, and is also a great idea. 

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This time we took the option of a car ride up, with a short walk from the car to where the deer are,  this is where you can meet, hang and feed the deer during the tour.  A great chance to get to know these amazing creatures. We stayed for an extra hour on the hills purely because the scenery is beautiful and having the opportunity to hang out with the deer is a really cool experience.  The tour guides are also very nice and chatty giving answers to any questions you have, so don't worry about awkward silences or asking questions. Everyone is very friendly and great atmosphere for adults and kids alike.  There were about 10 people on our tour including young children and the cold didn't seem to bother them which was great, but over time it can get very cold and some may want to leave and warm up to our advantage, staying an extra hour gave us the opportunity of getting to hang with the deer one to one.  After a good amount of time spent on the hill with the deer, we decided to take the beautiful walk downhill in the snow back to the Reindeer Centre.  We had about an hour to kill until our bus back to Aviemore, so we headed into Glenmore Visitor Centre where it was nice and warm sitting down in you guessed it! The Cafe getting some hearty food along with some hot drinks.

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Our day was coming to an end and it was time to get back on the train to head home, we both grabbed the Train back to Glasgow for a nice chilled journey. 

We can happily say that we are once again very happy with the Spirit of Scotland pass and the added bonus of it being on 20% Discount until end of February.  As I touched on earlier, it's sometimes easier taking the train not having to worry about driving by using local transport, plus its good for the environment leaving our cars at home at times. It's been really cool travelling this way as you get the opportunity to mix with locals more and for me thats what makes Scotland great, along with the amount of activities you can do plus the biggest advantage of all, the beautiful scenery here.  We look forward to sharing more of our Scotrail adventures with you and we look forward to hearing about any adventures you get up to here in our magical homeland.

 

Make sure to take advantage of the 20% discount before the end of February 2018!! - www.scotrail.co.uk/tickets/combined-tickets-travel-passes/spirit-of-scotland

Sending you good vibes always, 

Jawn & Tristan

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North Blog x Tomatin Whisky (WOOD).

Our adventure around the North of Scotland visiting all these beautiful places meeting all sorts of amazing people along the way was coming to an end. For a small country Scotland has an abundance of many beautiful places that are waiting to be discovered and explored, and the amount of breathtaking views that we have here continues to amaze me.
It was our last challenge of the Tomatin ‘Five Virtues’ Whiskies Challenges. l was excited about this one today because l am a man who loves nature and everything that thrives outdoors. Our challenge today is to visit Inverewe Gardens locating the huge California Redwoods of the Highlands finding the perfect area to enjoy a nip of Tomatin WOOD Whisky.

Inverewe Gardens is in a beautiful area of Scotland overlooking Loch Ewe, it’s truly an amazing sight walking through the garden seeing the amount of different botanicals that you wouldn't normally expect to see in Scotland with the climate that we are in and how far North we are.  It was lovely seeing the Himalayan Blue Poppies taking me back to my time spent climbing in the Himalayas and seeing some of my favourites which I didn’t expect to see like the Wollemi Pines which have such an odd unique beautiful look. I am loving every moment of this! It didn't feel like I was in Scotland one bit, the time and care that has been put into this garden is something that you would expect to see from Alice and Wonderland, and the smells of all the different species of plants and trees were remarkable. I was hoping to get glimpses from the garden of the seals and otters in Loch Ewe, unfortunately they must have all been hiding.  Finally we found the beautiful California Redwoods,  they were massive, making us feel very small. They stood like giants, I definitely took a moment and gave one of them a big hug trying to wrap my arms all the way round.

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After my treehugger moment we headed back to the area that l felt was the perfect place to enjoy my dram of Tomatin Wood Whisky overlooking majority of Inverewe Garden and Loch Ewe. I think I found the most picturesque location for this moment and it just felt right.  I got my glass out, and made sure I got a good amount of whisky.

Tomatin Wood Whisky definitely didn’t hold back, I got an instant taste of Oak then the aroma of a burning wood almost like an incense burning when you walk into the room and you can almost taste the intriguing musky scent. I got a deep smoky taste, it was charming with a fresh intense lingering aftertaste as if someone had made a fan out of leaves blowing the air into my face but this was all going on in my mouth. Sacred tobacco ceremony like. The smell was lovely, it made me feel happy and really did bring out the inner nature child within me, making me feel free and liberated, yet there was a strange contradiction as I also felt rooted and this maturing. It tasted ancient almost. The whisky brought me back to that moment of when you’re sitting around a camp fire, hearing that crackle and pop of fresh wood giving off all those natural wooden scents.  It made me feel warm on the inside almost like getting a hug back from that tree, and I could have happily sat there all day and enjoyed the rest of the Tomatin ‘Wood’ Whisky.

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It was time to leave beautiful Inverewe Gardens and make our way back to the Tomatin Distillery for a meeting with Graham Eunson (Distillery General Manager) discussing what we had learned about the elements connected to the whiskies and what we got from each of Tomatin’s ‘Five Virtues' Whiskies.  

It was an absolute privilege being in Graham’s company, we had learned a tremendous amount about the art of whisky, some of the skilled folk involved, what goes into it, the history behind each bottle, what it means for a distillery to produce each product, how important our home Scotland is for the production of these fine whiskies, how our culture and nature plays a huge role in the creation… the magical potion almost, that is put into each cask, how each bottle tells a story.  The knowledge that is passed down from generation to generation is an art within itself in the whisky industry and this is why Tomatin is thriving in all areas, they are sticking to and celebrating their Scottish roots as with whisky this is how the magic is created and maintained.

They aren't just great to drink and taste, they tell a story through your senses.

It is a very exciting time for Tomatin and l am extremely excited to see how people experience the ‘Five Virtues’ for themselves, as they are great tasting whiskies, but they may also add an extra element on your adventure. May the magic of these whiskies touch your soul like they did mine.

 

 

www.tomatin.com
INSTAGRAM - @tomatinwhisky
TWITTER - @tomatin1897

'THE SOFTER SIDE OF THE HIGHLANDS.'

 

"We were paid a small fee to take part in the creation of Tomatin's Route 501, however all our thoughts/opinions are our own."

 

North Blog x Tomatin Whisky (METAL).

Every year when my birthday approaches I get that same question, “What do you want” and I have the same response in jest every time “A bar of Gold”  I am yet to get this bar of Gold but today I may be in luck or maybe even be in with a chance of finding some flakes of gold.

We headed east for the town of Helmsdale not for fishing which it is known for but in search of gold. There was £1bn worth of gold discovered in this area during a huge gold rush in the 1500s. To this day gold has been found and taken from the streams, how interesting it would be if you could go for a wee walk into the Scottish Highlands picking gold as you please.

Our challenge today was to visit Helmsdale Museum learning about the town, the history, then get a gold pan and go panning for some gold.  We had a chat with the lady in the museum and she recommended a good area for some panning, so we headed about 10 miles up Strath of Kildonan finding a nice spot to park the camper van just next to Beinn Dubhain.  Once again we had gotten lucky with the weather with clear skies and not a cloud in sight.

Tomatin METAL whisky was an interesting one, as I was very curious as to how I was going to experience the connection to metal whilst panning for some gold. I didn’t quite know what to expect, but from my previous experiences so far, I was ready for whatever sensations and thoughts came my way.  The task of panning for gold is very much a game of patience, it was definitely no gold rush for myself and Jawn, even though Jawn kept saying "I have a good feeling about this."

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I was liking the optimistic attitude, Jawn was keeping the spirits lifted high. After about an hour of panning we still had no luck, but we did catch all sorts of beautiful stones that consisted of metal fragments.  Scottish waters consist of Aluminium, Fluoride, Iron, Magnesium plus the good old trickster Iron Pyrite otherwise known as fool’s gold, which we kept getting in our gold pan getting excited for a split second before realising that the trickster had got us once again.  

I thought this would be a good time to crack open the bottle of Tomatin Metal Whisky and go for a good sized dram.  As I tasted the whisky there was an element to it as if something cold but sharp had hit my mouth with a warm rich sensation, it was like a flash of lightning. It was a strange sensation but satisfying and it built to a peak. Once again after time spent focusing on gold panning, the experience had triggered something in tune with this Metal Whisky that had taken me back to my time spent in Thailand when l had the privilege of visiting a Buddhist temple seeing gold leaf for the first time.  When l was in the Buddhist temple l was being blessed by one of the monks who did a prayer of good fortune for me, handing me a drink with gold leaf being the main ingredient which at the time had a raw metallic taste but this time drinking the whisky it was sweet, rich and full of a sharp hint of flavours that wanted to pop but kept its composure.  The flavours were interesting, I was blown away by the memory it had triggered. I knew that scents could trigger memories and take you back to a place,  but I didn’t realise how much the same might go for tastes in a similar way.

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I mean if a drink made in Scotland, from Scottish ingredients takes me back to a time and place from another part of the world many years ago this really does tell me how powerful whisky can be, not because of its alcohol content but because it has the strength to take me back to an amazing point in my life of spiritual significance. Things are connected more than we think, and our senses, even taste can transport us back to a positive memory.

Tomatin Whisky Metal you truly out did yourself even though you didn't help me catch any gold, but you definitely revealed your secret to me in another way. I struck it lucky there and that was gold in it’s own way.

The sun was setting, it was time to find someplace to settle for the night, so we drove to Durness arriving late at Durness Campsite after another long fun filled day.

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www.tomatin.com
INSTAGRAM - @tomatinwhisky
TWITTER - @tomatin1897
'THE SOFTER SIDE OF THE HIGHLANDS.'

 

"We were paid a small fee to take part in the creation of Tomatin's Route 501, however all our thoughts/opinions are our own"

North Blog x Tomatin Whisky (FIRE).

 

We were up and ready to go, bright and early.  The sun was shining, birds were chirping  and it was beautiful with stunning views looking onto Dornoch Firth from the campsite. We made a nice hot brew then went for a nice walk along the sandy beach.
After our morning walk we hopped back into the (Cairngorms Camper - pictured below) camper van for a short drive to Tain, which is one of Scotland’s oldest Royal Burghs with over 950 years of Scottish history.  It was founded by the Vikings, and Robert The Bruce’s family hid here when he was in exile. We couldn't of asked for a better day as we made our way to Glasstorm where we would be partaking in glass blowing, which would be a first for myself and Jawn.  We parked in the carpark, then made our way around to the front of Glasstorm studio to see that they had already been blowing glass since 6am. The setting was gorgeous, they had an open plan style studio that you could see right into from the streets, it was amazing to see. The town of Tain is a very beautiful picturesque town in the Scottish Highlands and having one of Britain’s top glass blowing studios is a major perk as it is a gem within itself.  Brodie Nairn and Nichola Burns are the exceptionally talented duo who have made Glasstorm world renowned for their unique style and talent in glass blowing.

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As we were watching the glass blowing take place from the streets, Brodie shouted out “We are expecting you guys, come on round”. We made our way through the front doors and again more good vibes are felt flowing in the studio, and it is great to be around such raw creativity. We were greeted with a warm welcome (no pun intended) and an introduction to glass blowing by Brodie.  He shared with us all of his experience, giving us an insight into the world of glass blowing, the techniques and answering every question we could come up with.   

After a morning in such a relaxed atmosphere chatting with Brodie in the studio telling him why we were doing this adventure, he then said “l think it’s only right that we get you guys to make your own whisky glass”. I instantly thought that would be amazing, great idea. I am in. It sounds silly to some, but this was like a dream come true for me as I had always wanted to attempt glass blowing and to do it in my homeland Scotland was very special for me.

The precision and detail that goes into the art of glass blowing definitely is an element of its own, bear in mind this was about understanding the elemental aspect of our Tomatin FIRE Whisky. It is not everyday that you get to do something like this and considering how much glass is used nowadays it’s a very important to see how we as humans utilise this eloquent material. Being in the studio, checking out the space and watching Brodie do his work was a very cool experience as it was, let alone having the opportunity to try to do it ourselves. He made it look effortless, the studio was roasting hot with all the furnaces burning. The amount of heat they gave off was insane.

From learning all we could from Brodie who was showing us techniques, to learning how to handle the tools used and of course also being cautious of anything hot, it was a lot to process, especially as the next thing we were doing was making sure we remembered it as we were being put to the test making our very own glass!  Seeing how the hot glass is treated by the fire, how it moves when it comes out the furnace, how we handled it with the tools used, the scent filling the air in studio, the reaction of how the heat in the air felt on my skin, the colours coming off of the red hot glass, and the feelings that ran through me when I worked the glass creating, it was all very euphoric. I could instantly understand why Brodie loves glass blowing, there is something very relaxing about handling red hot glass working with it in ways creating a natural beauty, watching the heat creating this dancing masterpiece, firing it up and putting life into it.

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I had learnt, felt, seen and experienced first hand how strong the power of fire is and how everything is broken down into a finer detail. Creating my very own glass was no easy task but Brodie was there guiding me, watching me, helping me perfect the glass in whichever way best represented me.  There was no expectations but living in the moment creating a thing of beauty that l can enjoy for the rest of my life.  I was very happy with my glass, it wasn't technically perfect, but to me it was as I will always remember the process and feeling of creating it and the memory associated.  

After myself and Jawn had the chance of creating our very own whisky glasses which I highly recommend trying if you get the opportunity, it was now the moment of elements. l wanted to use my glass to drink Tomatin Fire Whisky but it needed time to cool, so another whisky glass had to do.

I was even more excited now about drinking the whisky, from what l had experienced today I had an idea this was going to be a real insight of understanding the fire connection to whisky that I had never realised before.  I poured myself a wee dram, then after I took in the scent, I could feel as if the blood pumping through my body was on fire, what I was smelling in the glass felt vibrant and I could almost taste it.  Then as I took a drink it was almost as if I was taking a sip of a hot brew, it was spicy and there was a kick of heat in there, I could really feel the fluidity of the Tomatin Fire Whisky running through my veins heating me up with the same euphoric feeling I had experienced while making my glass, I felt a warm rush, heat, my skin was tingling around my lips, the drink felt alive!
Our experience at Glasstorm was unforgettable and l cannot wait to try glass blowing again and some more Tomatin Fire Whisky. Scotland is full of surprises, I would have never thought the beauty of glass blowing would cause fire to ignite in me this appreciation for a whisky in a complete different way. So far the connection of the whisky names to the first two elements have made complete sense when tested. It is amazing how we under appreciate some of the simple things until we have moments like this. Blessed.

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www.tomatin.com
www.glasstorm.com
INSTAGRAM - @tomatinwhisky
TWITTER - @tomatin1897
'THE SOFTER SIDE OF THE HIGHLANDS.'

 

"We were paid a small fee to take part in the creation of Tomatin's Route 501, however all our thoughts/opinions are our own"

North Blog x Tomatin Whisky (WATER).

TOMATIN - THE SOFTER SIDE OF THE HIGHLANDS.

“Whisky. The proper drinking of Scotch whisky is more than indulgence; it is a toast to a civilisation, a tribute to the continuity of culture, a manifesto of man’s determination to use the resources of nature to refresh mind and body and enjoy to the full senses, with which he has been endowed” – David Daiches

Today we embark on our Tomatin Route 501 Whisky Adventure. We worked in collaboration with the Highland distillery to create an adventure that helps with my understanding the fine art of creating whisky, but also to become at one with the new Tomatin ‘Five Virtues’ whiskies, Water, Fire, Metal, Earth and Wood.  Whilst I will enjoying the whisky, Jawn was along to capture the magnificence of this adventure. This journey is going to be exciting. 

Myself and Jawn came up with five challenges combining visiting beautiful places in bonnie Scotland with the goal of completing a task at each location within a certain time frame. We will be exploring areas around the North of Scotland that we have never visited before, I will be tasting whisky in ways it has never been tasted, all whilst indulging and immersing ourselves in nature’s elements as I enjoy a wee dram. Where better to undertake this whisky adventure than on the NC500 - Scotland's answer to America's Route 66, circling the country. Tomatin just off this route – a perfect start and finish point – hence the Tomatin Route 501 whisky adventure.

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First things first though, we needed to make sure that we have a camper van as this is always a great idea when you are road tripping.  Myself and Jawn did some research which led us into finding a family run camper van business called Cairngorm Campers. Always support local businesses! As we arrived at Cairngorm Campers there was no one to be seen, and we asked ourselves for second “Are we in the right place?” then we heard someone shout “Be with you in a minute, tending to my bees right now”.  A friendly gentlemen came over with his dog, his arm was swollen like a balloon, but he was laughing and saying “Ooooh it’s not that bad, just a few wee stings”. I found his response to it hilarious, and I instantly got good vibes. Anyone with a dog who also has their own bee garden taking care of and helping save the bees, whilst laughing off the battle wounds they get in the process has to be a pretty good person in my books.  We got a quick rundown of the camper van which took no longer than ten minutes then off we went.

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We headed south of Inverness taking us to the Tomatin Distillery. Myself and Jawn both very excited about having this opportunity of a personal tour from the Tomatin Brand Ambassador Scott Fraser. Then after passing through the shadow of all the black buildings you will start to smell the aromas kicking about in the air. This is something that obviously needs to be experienced first hand.

As we parked up we headed to the main office instantly being greeted by Scott, who was a lovely cheery gent with a big smile giving us an energetic warm hearty welcome to the home of Tomatin Whisky. Good vibes are flowing everywhere today and it’s awesome!  He took us from building to building, letting us get hands on with rolling some barrels, smelling all the different ingredients involved in the making of whisky, giving us a true insight of how the magic happens.  The science, thought process and knowledge from experience that is put into making these fine whiskies is something that is unbelievable until you see and hear it, and it really makes you feel proud of being Scottish knowing how our nation has got this art down to perfection.

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After a few hours exploring the distillery, learning from Scott everything we needed to know about whisky, it was then onto the whisky tasting. Yes l said it; a whisky tour is never complete unless you get to taste the products right? It would be rude not to after seeing all the hard work that goes into the process. He took us into Tomatin’s tasting room, and as we sat down at this beautiful wooden table we realised we were surrounded by some of the finest bottles of Whisky that Tomatin has ever created. I felt very privileged having the opportunity of being in this room among these masterpieces.  He then leaned over and said “Ok Tristan are you ready?”. One, two, three, four and five drams later, I had been whisked away into experiencing the five virtues of Tomatin.  Scott had given me a glass full of each of the whiskies, teaching me their story and the true correct way of drinking them to experience that story in full, and explaining in full details how the five virtues each got their flavours. After all, the ‘Five Virtues’ were why we were on this trip.

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This visit is by far one of the best history lessons that I have ever had. Who thought a history lesson could be so much fun? The history of whisky is an interesting one. Unfortunately Jawn couldn't drink, but I got to taste all these fine whiskies whilst he had a smell of each one of the ‘Five Virtues’, which was rewarding in itself.  After an exciting afternoon with Scott in the distillery it was time to leave, we had an adventure to start.  


Water

Our first challenge of the ‘Five Virtues’ Whiskies is WATER. We wanted somewhere beautiful and accessible where we could hear the sound of water trickling down the rocks and maybe even with a waterfall or two in the background if we were lucky. Being in Scotland we knew just where to go and lucky we were, as we both decided the Fairy Glen Falls in Rosemarkie was the perfect spot. Fairy Glen Falls is known for two beautiful waterfalls which set the scene for old ceremonies where people, especially children from the village decorated the spring by placing flowers in and around it, and making small offerings whilst singing songs to make sure the Sìdhichean or fairies as they are called, were happy so that they would take care of the water and keep it clean. Spots they took care of were thought to contain healing waters. 

Our challenge was to enjoy a wee dram of the Tomatin ‘Water’ Whisky and a wee dram of fresh Scottish water from the waterfalls. The walk through the woods following the stream upwards was gorgeous, the smells of beech, rowan, ash and oak trees filled the air with a sweetness that made our walk that much more magical.  We had not even reached the waterfalls and already we were in awe of everything. Finally we reached the first waterfall, which was stunning; we sat and took in the sights before making a few more short steps up the pathway to reach the final waterfall.

Finding a nice comfortable place in the area to have a seat taking it all in with a big deep breath, I took my Tomatin whisky glass out of my backpack before cracking open the bottle of Tomatin ‘Water’ Whisky and pouring myself a wee dram. I took my boots and socks off and was soaking my feet in the Fairy Glen Falls Water before having a drink, which didn’t last long. It was very good dram and almost felt like it cleansed and refreshed me!

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Slowly with my now empty glass I make my way over to the waterfall so I can enjoy a nice fresh glass of Scottish water from the Fairy Glen Falls.  Everything seemed to fall into place, and I was caught in a moment of realisation. l chuckled to myself as l remembered Scott saying to me about the element of surprise in a bottle of whisky, and this was it. I was experiencing exactly what he had said and what I had hoped for. I could feel and understand the connection to the water element, I could feel the history, l could visualise and sense the flow of how the water adds to the magic of the whisky creation.  Filling up with this honest, pure and refreshing cleansing feeling just like a swim in one of our amazing loch's that Scotland is famous for, and just like the dram. A part of the secret within a bottle of Tomatin Scottish Water Whisky is that this healing, refreshing water is an important part of our culture, our homeland, and with a purpose has flown through the beauty of all that has been here, and many have came and paid respect to it, whilst tasting it because of its gift. Water is vital to our survival and I know how we must protect our water sources but I had never thought about how important or meaningful water was to the process of whisky creation, but I now know, and this is still only the beginning of our adventure.

It was time to leave this beautiful area to drive North East where we ended up arriving late at Portmahomack Campsite to get some rest before our adventure continues the next day.

 

www.tomatin.com
INSTAGRAM - @tomatinwhisky
TWITTER - @tomatin1897

'THE SOFTER SIDE OF THE HIGHLANDS.'

 

"We were paid a small fee to take part in the creation of Tomatin's Route 501, however all our thoughts/opinions are our own."

SOLO TRIP TO PERU (PART 3).

photos & text by tristan cameron-harper.

 

19th May

With all the adventures so far, I was ready for today. I had been told by a traveller of some hidden rock structures on the outskirts of Cusco that not many people know about, except the locals.

Gary the other Scot staying at the farm house wanted to join as he had heard about the structures briefly before. We got a collectivo from Calca to Cusco, getting off at an area called Quinqu.

The location we headed for today was a place called Rocas Lancacuyo 'Lancacuyo rocks'. 

It was very difficult to find and no easy task, but we had our eyes peeled looking making sure that we got off at the right point on the road.

Our plan was to get off, explore Lancacuyo then slowly make our way down towards Cusco giving us time to explore Temple de La Luna 'Temple of The Moon' and Qenko (Quechua word meaning Labyrinth or zigzag). Unfortunately we didn't get to make it to these places as Lancacuyo ended up being too much fun!

Lancacuyo definitely didn't disappoint. I was expecting some cool rock structures which I did see, but I had no idea I would find an intricate cave system consisting of around a dozen different formations carved in ways I could never have imagined. Myself and Gary saw one of the main openings to the caves, and we both stuck close together at first making sure we never lost one another, then a few minutes in we decided to play a game. We left some money in one of the largest cave sections that we discovered with about 5 different exits leading to other caves. The object of the game was to go adventure all of the other areas, hopefully finding our way back into the original cave and the first one back would buy lunch or dinner.

 

“Ye who shall not be like little children shall never enter the kingdom of heaven”

 

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Gary kept saying this. I could hear his words echoing throughout the complex cave system, it was hilarious. That sense of adventuring really does bring out the best in people, it's a remarkable thing. The beauty of exploring these caves for me was that I felt safe. I used to be scared of caves when I was younger thinking will these collapse? Will I get lost? Will there be some monster lurking around the corner? But no, these caves felt special, I felt safe and I felt very privileged exploring knowing when the Inca did dominate and thrive in these areas that they would be doing similar to us, and undertaking the various rituals they chose to participate in within their culture to connect with the gods in this realm. 

It was very mystical, and awe inspiring knowing that there had been thousands of years of generations who had mastered the skills of harnessing the limestone, creating amazing shapes, seating, working with the sun, the moon and shadows using their knowledge of astronomy to work with how the light would enter the cave against the stones creating beautiful shadows, or reverse, illuminating the shadowy spaces, and with a purpose. As I crawled through the tight spaces I had that fear creep in “Tristan, you are in South America. What if a nasty bug bites you and then you get stuck?”. For some reason I still felt very safe, it felt peaceful, I was at ease and it was not claustrophobic in any way. Deep down I knew everything would be okay.

The caves were known for when the Incas extracted blocks of this area for the construction of the fortress temple complex Sacsayhuaman or Saksaqwaman (Quechua meaning Royal Falcon, although some people will say Royal Eagle depending who you ask). It is one of those moments again where I am thinking how the heck have they managed to cut the stones perfectly with fine straight edges and corners considering the technology that wouldn't have been available during their era, and thinking of the options they had. Bear in mind that I am still exploring the caves looking for another way back. I can no longer hear Gary, so I am either getting closer and he is hiding somewhere waiting to scare me, or I am totally lost.

The silence in the cave is not at all eerie, it is very zen and I am starting to really feel how special these caves are. That feeling of being in a room with no distractions, just warm sensations, peacefulness and tranquility all washing over me, whilst being present and in the moment... yet also so strangely connected to the past of this amazing place. These caves were also known for the Incan rituals that occurred within, with the inside areas consisting of throne like seats, altar like structures and many narrow passageways which I am still exploring. I don't know where time has gone, I have not forgotten about Gary and I am sure he hasn't forgotten about me, but maybe he is experiencing the same thing as me. We are on an almost completely different timeline.

I can see a seat inside a narrow passageway and I have to turn my body sideways to slide through the narrow crack. I am now sitting on this ancient perfectly carved rock with nothing but complete silence. I cross my legs, shut my eyes and let everything be as if I am not even here. Losing myself in this moment, or finding myself in this moment. No desire to go anywhere but here and now. 

I feel that to experience an enlightenment and a fulfilling life, inspiring, and raising awareness, then I as a human must be able to be in the now. We learn from the past (especially our ancestors), we are inspired by the future and we meet elements of both in the now and transform ourselves, our lives and even the lives of others here. The now is where we learn the most about ourselves and everything around us, that's why we must just stop at times, no distractions and just let ourselves be in this moment. This consciousness of just being, letting things flow, acknowledging and learning naturally, with a desire to grow and reaching my fullest potential, I am right in the now. This cave is showing and letting me feel its magic. I don't quite understand the feelings that are rushing through me or what it was I was experiencing but I feel very calm and content.

The thought comes in that I need to go searching for Gary, time has disappeared. I have no idea how long I have been away and interestingly I have not heard one sound of the outside world.

I gradually make my way back finding a passageway leading me to the opposite end of where I had left the original cave with our bags. Gary is sitting chuckling to himself smoking a mapacho softly saying “ I'm guessing the caves showed you their magic”.

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He admitted having a similar experience which was very strange. Some may say it was in our heads, but for me it all felt too real. 

We looked at the time and we had been in the caves for roughly 6 hours. We had originally only planned to be there for 2 hours max, so the magic in there definitely cast a spell over us and made time almost non existent. My first experience in Peruvian caves definitely did not disappoint.

 

20th May

The moment I arrived in Calca, one mountain captured my attention almost immediately, Ancasmarca or as it is more commonly known Pitusiray, sitting at a height of 4,991m. I knew deep down that I had to climb this, there was no question of it, it had to be done especially as I was yet to climb a mountain in the Sacred Valley. The only things that concerned me were the high altitude and the weather. It had been nice during the days, rainy season had ended, but being that high the climate is always different and the weather can alter dramatically.

We had gotten up at 4am, it was going to be a very earlier start and I wanted to make sure that I had time to meditate starting the day off right, then collect supplies from the market getting all the essentials for our trek up Pitusiray. Gary, my Scottish friend had decided to adventure up the mountain with me and I was chuffed about this as it can be nice having company on new adventures sharing the experience. 

We headed to the market and of all the people we could bump into, we bump into our friend The Shaman again, who we did the San Pedro ceremony with. He was getting some herbs and spices to treat a family member who had fallen sick. We were sad to hear that one of his family members had fallen ill. Even a man whose role and main duty was within his community in the jungle, family is always a priority and he would always be there to treat and help those however he could, even when they got sick in the more so-called “civilised areas” outside of the jungle. He quickly changed the subject making us laugh saying in Spanish to Gary who translated it “Won't be any problem camping on Pitusiray, you're men who like to wear a skirt in the hills”. He was being cheeky but kindly, meaning the Scots are tough and they don't need to wear much already. I really grew to like this man for the short time that I had known him, he was brave, kind, he had a funny and witty sense of humour and overall had amazingly positive vibes.

As we left our friend The Shaman, we gathered all of our essentials, bananas, nuts, water, corn, bread and probably enough cake to feed 10 men. I'm blaming Gary for all the cake, as he had his favourite older sweet Quechua ladies in the market that he would talk to on a regular basis who were all very kind and always smiling. He made a point of telling them that we were going up the big mountain, and in return they filled our bags generously only wanting a big hug and a kiss on the cheek. Going up the mountains is treated like making a journey to converse with the gods.

I had a feeling deep down inside me that it was going to be a night with no sleep, high above the clouds looking at the stars.

The trek definitely was not easy. The first hour I find is always the toughest before you get into a rhythm, breathing starts to get in sync, your body starts to adjust, then things starts to flow easier. But on the other hand Gary was also having a bit of a tough time, as his backpack was almost double the size of him. I kept offering to help but his stubbornness would kick in with him refusing any help, so we decided to take breaks every half and hour which didn't bother me as the views were remarkable, plus we always had the most intense deep conversations about everything. Gary was full of stories.

As we hit about 4,500m, we were starting to get above the clouds. Unfortunately, I was now starting to feel the slight effects of altitude. My head was feeling a little wonky and I had totally forgotten to buy the most important thing I could have bought, the coco leaves of all things, to help with the altitude. Luckily as we continued up the mountain we saw this old man coming down it chewing something that I knew had to be coco leaves. I kindly asked if he could spare some, and he generously and gladly offered me two handfuls. After a few minutes chatting we made our way back on track, my headache was now feeling better and I was now feeling more energised and truly grateful for that old man sharing his coco leaves with me. Coco leaves don't taste amazing, but god do they help with altitude and give you a small kick of energy. Natures medicine.

We had been trekking roughly 6 hours from Calca 2,928m almost making it to the top when we had caught up with another old man. At first I thought it was the old man that we had met before, but then I thought surely it couldn't have been. For a second Gary and I were both very confused, but it was not the same man, it was another who was carrying a piece of firewood which looked far too heavy for a man of his age to be carrying. As we slowly passed him he stuck out his foot and tripped me up letting out the loudest roar of a laugh, we all started laughing. I had no idea what had just happened, well I did, he obviously tripped me up on purpose but it was comical and again the Peruvian elders have a funny sense of humour. He was a true man of the mountains, that I could tell, even though I could not understand one word that he said. Gary couldn't even understand any words that he was saying. He was talking in another language or mumbling Quechua in a dialect Gary had not heard before.

Then all of a sudden it was as if the old man came to terms with the fact that we couldn't understand him, and he sat down on a rock. We sat down next to him, then for the next thirty minutes or so, we just sat there staring into the distance, before the old man got up and smiled, nodded off then away he went on the rest of his journey. It was a very beautiful moment, no words were said in that time but we had a mutual understanding that went beyond language, just being and admiring the view. This is one reason why I love adventuring, moments like these are precious.

We finally made it to the top of Pitusiray 4,991m. My God the views were insane. It was gorgeous, so peaceful and exactly where I felt I needed to be in that exact moment. We had wanted to camp on the top but it was too dangerous. It looked as if we were going to get hit by a thunder storm, so we retreated down the mountain finding a small cave, flat land, spongy tall grass and a tree with enough twigs on it to man a small fire. We luckily escaped the thunderstorm hiding in the cave for a few hours, just like the ancestors of this land would have done.

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The night ended with us both passing out in front of our small fire looking up gazing at the stars.

 

22nd May

 

My trip was now coming to an end. I had been given a true insight of Peru, how special it is and how fortunate I had been to visit. It had been a one in a life time experience for me, one that I had wanted to fulfil for a long time, and will never ever be forgotten. I met many like minded souls all on their own unique inspiring journey and I won't forget what I have learned during my stay. I will return. I hope that if you are considering visiting Peru that reading this might help give you that push to take the jump like I did, you won't regret it. I also look forward to sharing more stories of my journeys to amazing places with you all.

Thank you for taking the time to read my short lived adventures in Peru that will be continued one day...

Onwards and Upwards.

SOLO TRIP TO PERU (PART 2).

14TH MAY

 

ONCE AGAIN A BEAUTIFUL MORNING, FEELING FRESH AND READY TO EXPLORE. I REMEMBER THE SHAMAN MENTIONING THAT THERE IS A SACRED CAVE IN THE HUAROCONDO VALLEY CALLED NAUPA HUACA WHICH TRANSLATES TO ANCIENT SACRED. IT IS ALSO KNOWN AS NAUPA IGLESIA A SITE WHICH IS A ROUGH ALTITUDE OF 9800 FT ON THE SIDE OF A RAVINE, HAS SURVIVED SOME PRETTY INTENSE EARTHQUAKES AND THE DESIGN OF THE SITE IS ALSO SEEN IN ANCIENT PERSIA AND EGYPT WHICH IS PRETTY AMAZING TO THINK OF, SOME OF THE MEASUREMENTS IN THE DESIGN ACTUALLY MATCH THE SLOPE ANGLES OF THE TWO MAIN PYRAMIDS OF GIZA.

 

I'M SUPER EXCITED ABOUT EXPLORING THIS PLACE, EVEN THE JOURNEY TRYING TO FIND IT WILL BE AN ADVENTURE CONSIDERING IT IS NOT SIGN POSTED AND NOT MANY PEOPLE KNOW ABOUT IT. I DID A LITTLE RESEARCH LOOKING AT MAPS AND WAS GIVEN SOME INFORMATION BY THE SHAMAN THE PREVIOUS DAY. I HAD A GOOD IDEA HOW TO GET THERE BUT IN REALITY IT FELT LIKE A GAMBLE CONSIDERING THE SMALL AMOUNT OF INFO L HAD ABOUT NAUPA HUACA, BUT I KNEW IF I GOT THERE IT WOULD BE WORTH IT. I GOT A COLLECTIVO FROM CALCA TO PACHAR, THEN FOLLOWED THE SIGNS FOR HUAROCONDO VALLEY FOLLOWING A ROAD PASSING ONE BRIDGE ON MY RIGHT THEN COMING TO ANOTHER BRIDGE WITH TRAIN TRACKS. I FOLLOWED THE TRAIN TRACKS ALL THE WAY UNTIL I SAW A SIGN SAYING “NO CAMPING”, I HAD THE FEELING THAT THIS MAY BE THE AREA WHERE NAUPA HUACA IS.

THERE WAS A SMALL DIRT PATH SO I MADE THE DECISION TO FOLLOW IT NOT KNOWING WHERE IT WOULD LEAD, THE PATHWAY KEPT GOING UP WHICH DIDN'T BOTHER ME, IF IT TOOK ME TO THE WRONG AREA I WAS STILL GOING TO GET GREAT VIEWS OF THE VALLEY.

 

AFTER ABOUT 30 MINUTES WALKING I SAW THESE GIGANTIC STONES UP AHEAD, THEN AS I CONTINUED UP THE HILL I STARTED SEEING MORE SIGNS OF RUINS, AND I WAS BUZZING ALL OVER AS I KNEW I WAS ON THE RIGHT TRACK. I FINALLY REACHED THE GIGANTIC STONES I HAD INITIALLY SAW DOWN BELOW, AND AS I GOT GOT CLOSER CHILLS RAN DOWN MY SPINE... I HAD MADE IT TO THE SACRED CAVES OF NAUPA HUACA.


 



 

 

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THE EXACT PART OF THE MOUNTAIN THAT THIS AMAZING PLACE HAS BEEN CREATED IS PERFECTLY POSITIONED AMONG BLUESTONE, AS IF IT WAS BUILT ALMOST TO UTILISE THIS. BLUESTONE CONTAINS A TYPE OF CRYSTAL THAT WAS USED IN EARLY RADIO RECEIVERS DUE TO ITS ELECTRICAL VOLTAGE ABILITIES, IT WAS ALSO USED IN THE OLDEST PART OF STONEHENGE AND SOME OLD SCOTTISH SACRED SITES. THE ROCK IS ALSO NATURALLY MAGNETIC, ANOTHER USEFUL FEATURE FOR SHAMANIC JOURNEYING WHICH IS IMPORTANT IN THE CULTURE, ESPECIALLY WHEN COMMUNICATING WITH THE GODS. SUCH AN INTERESTING THING TO THINK ABOUT WHEN TRYING TO PICTURE WHAT HAPPENED IN THIS PLACE.


 

NOT ONLY WAS IT A REMARKABLE FEELING OF GETTING TO NAUPA HUACA BUT THE STONE WORK INSIDE THE CAVE WAS PERFECT AND AGAIN THERE WERE NO WORDS THAT COULD EVEN DESCRIBE WHAT I WAS WITNESSING.

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IT WAS CLEAR THAT THESE CAVES HAD GONE DEEPER INTO THE GROUND, AND FROM THE KNOWLEDGE THE SHAMAN PASSED ON, HE TOLD ME THAT BACK IN THE 80S PEOPLE TRIED TO BLOW UP CERTAIN PARTS OF THE AREA IN SEARCH FOR GOLD. THERE ARE STILL MANY CAVES UNDERGROUND TO THIS DAY THAT ARE KEPT SECRET THAT LEAD INTO SACRED AREAS OF THE MOUNTAINS, AS MANY AREAS OF PERU ARE KNOWN FOR GOLD, CRYSTALS AND VALUABLE EARTHLY ELEMENTS WHICH OTHERS WANT TO COME AND EXPLOIT. SECRETS AMONG THE LOCALS ARE COMMON HERE AS THE LAND THAT THEY PROTECT THRIVES WITH SO MUCH, AND OUTSIDERS WOULD CONTINUE TO TRY TAKE ADVANTAGE HOWEVER THEY COULD. IT'S GOOD WE HAVE THESE LOCALS WHO STAND THEIR GROUND TO PROTECT WHAT IS THERE AND MORE HAVE TO TRY TO SUPPORT THEM!

 

THE CARVINGS IN THE STONE WERE LIKE NO OTHER. WHAT WERE THEY USED FOR? WHY DID THEY CREATE THEM IN THIS LOCATION? WHY SO HIGH UP? WHY IN A CAVE? I ASKED MYSELF ALL THESE QUESTIONS PLUS MORE. IT WAS AS IF I WAS LOOKING AT A STONE DOOR OF SOME SORT, USED MAYBE IN AN ANCIENT CEREMONY OR OFFERING TO THE GODS. THE STRANGE THING ABOUT ALL THESE ANCIENT SITES SO FAR IS THAT I KEEP GETTING A CONNECTION WITH THE ANCIENT SITES IN SCOTLAND, AND ALSO EGYPT WHICH I MENTIONED EARLIER. IS THERE A CONNECTION HERE THAT HAS BEEN LOST OR AT LEAST VERY FEW PEOPLE KNOW ABOUT? I COULD COME BACK HERE AGAIN AND AGAIN AND STILL BE AMAZED, MAYBE WE WILL FIND THE ANSWER SOMEDAY. 

 

16th May

 

I WAS EXCITED ABOUT TODAY, MY STEP BROTHER PIERS HAD BEEN TRAVELLING ALL OVER PERU FOR THE PAST 6 MONTHS STUDYING ARCHAEOLOGY. DISCOVERING THINGS YOU COULD ONLY IMAGINE WOULD BE FOUND IN THE UNDISCOVERED PARTS OF PERU. IT WAS EXCITING THAT HE WAS IN AREAS THAT WERE NOT YET FULLY EXCAVATED AND HAD NOT EVEN YET BEEN OFFICIALLY REGISTERED BY THE PERUVIAN GOVERNMENT. EVERYTHING HE WAS UNCOVERING WAS UNDISCOVERED. WE HAD ARRANGED PREVIOUSLY (AND HOPED) IF WE WERE CLOSE WE COULD MEET FOR A DAY AND I COULD COME ALONG ON ONE OF HIS ADVENTURES. IT JUST SO HAPPENED THAT HE WAS IN CUSCO FOR A SHORT TIME AND WAS DOING SOME WORK AROUND THE AREA, WHICH WAS AMAZING.

 

I MADE IT TO CUSCO FOR 7.30AM MEETING HIM AT THE UNIVERSIDAD ANDINA DEL CUSCO. FIRST WE WOULD HEAD TO PINIPAMPA LOOKING FOR PETROGLYPHS, HE HAD BEEN TO THIS AREA A FEW TIMES SEARCHING AND HAD STUMBLED UPON SOME PETROGLYPHS DATING 500-600YRS OLD WHICH HAD NOT BEEN PUBLICLY RECORDED YET. THE PETROGLYPHS WERE IN A BURIAL SITE AREA HIGH IN THE HILLS. PIERS TOLD ME THAT LAST TIME HE CAME NO ONE HAD BEEN HERE AND THAT ALL THE ORIGINAL GRAVES WERE UNTOUCHED AND NOW YOU CAN SEE THERE HAVE BEEN GRAVE ROBBERS WHO HAVE COME BY SEARCHING FOR VALUABLE ARTIFACTS THAT HAD BEEN BURIED WITH THE DEAD. IT IS COMMON FOR GRAVE ROBBERS TO DO THIS IN PERU AS YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT YOU MAY FIND.

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AFTER EXPLORING PINIPAMPA, WE WALKED AROUND 4 MILES TO SUMAGTIKA INCAN AQUEDUCT. AQUEDUCTS WERE USED AROUND 1500YRS PLUS AGO FOR BRINGING IN FRESH WATER FROM THE SURROUNDING AREAS WHICH WOULD BE USED FOR DISTRIBUTING WATER ACROSS WIDER AREAS OF THE LAND, DRINKING WATER AND EVEN BATHS IN SOME CASES. AT FIRST I HAD NO IDEA WHAT I WAS LOOKING AT, I WAS TO BUSY TRYING TO GET ALL THE CACTUS OUT OF MY FEET FROM THE WALK GETTING THERE, WHICH WOULD HAVE BEEN GOOD IF PIERS HAD PRE-WARNED ME THAT WE WERE GOING TO GO ONTO A DIRT PATH AMONG ALL THE SPIKY CACTUSES. THERE IS NO WORSE FEELING THAT GETTING CACTUS STUCK IN YOUR FEET. TRUST ME, IT'S RAZOR SHARP AND HURTS.

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THE SKILL AND DEVELOPMENT THAT HAS GONE INTO THIS ANCIENT CULTURE DOESN'T SEEM REAL. EVERYWHERE YOU GO THERE IS ALWAYS SOMETHING TO BE DISCOVERED, A PART OF CULTURE STILL THERE TO BE CELEBRATED. THE WESTERN WORLD COULD LEARN A GREAT DEAL FROM THIS.

 

WE WERE ON THE MOVE AGAIN, HEADING TO LAGUNA HUACARPAY WALKING DOWN THE ORIGINAL INCA TRAIL THAT HAD BEEN USED FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS, IT WAS SLIGHTLY OVERGROWN WITH GRASS AND FLOWERS BUT ONCE AGAIN IMAGINING HUNDREDS OF GENERATIONS OF INCAN PEOPLE FROM ALL OVER WALKED THIS EXACT ROUTE TO LAGUNA HUACARPAY WAS AN INTERESTING FEELING. THE VIEWS DEFINITELY DID NOT DISAPPOINT AND THE LAKE WAS LIKE A BEAUTIFUL GLASS MIRROR. WE CONTINUED WALKING DOWN TO THE LEFT OF HUACARPAY EVENTUALLY REACHING THE RUINS OF URPICANCHA MEANING “FIELD OF WILD DOVES” IN QUECHUA. OF ALL THE PLACES IN PERU TO VISIT THIS HAS GOT TO BE ONE OF THEM. IT WAS EMPTY, NOT ONE OTHER SOUL AND YOU HAVE FREE ACCESS OF EXPLORING THE ENTIRE AREA.

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URPICANCHA WAS ORIGINALLY BELIEVED TO OF BEEN BUILT BY THE WARI PRE-INCA CULTURE, NOT MUCH IS KNOWN ABOUT THIS CULTURE AS THEY DIDN'T APPEAR TO USE A FORM OF WRITTEN RECORD BUT WHAT THEY CAN MAKE OUT IS THAT THEY HAD A COMPLEX SOCIOPOLITICAL HIERARCHY, WORSHIPPED THE CHAVIN STAFF DEITY WHICH THEY INCLUDED ELEMENTS OF IN THEIR AMAZING ANDEAN ART AND TEXTILES, AS WELL AS UNDERTAKING SOME INTERESTING RITUALS THAT INCLUDED BLOOD LETTING AND HALLUCINATORY PLANTS. THEY WILLKA TREE KNOWn AS 'SACRED' IN QUECHUA LANGUAGES WAS OF GREAT IMPORTANCE TO THE WARI AND THE SHAMANS WOULD HAVE CHICA DRINKING CEREMONIES AND THE ART LEFT WHICH IS LIKE THEIR VERSION OF WRITTEN RECORD SHOWS THIS AND SOME OF THE TRANSITIONS SOME OF THE GREAT WARI LEADERS WOULD MAKE FROM SHAMANS TO PRIESTS. IT SHOULD NEVER BE FORGOTTEN THAT THEY WERE EXPERT AGRICULTURISTS, AS THEY MANAGED TO SURVIVE THE 30 YEAR LONG DROUGHT THAT ADDED TO THE DECLINE OF THE NAZCA AND MOCHE COMMUNITIES. BUT ONCE AGAIN THEY ARE ANOTHER MYSTERY TO BE ADDED TO THE ANCIENT PERUVIAN CULTURE.

 

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17th May

 

EVERY SINGLE DAY I AM EXPLORING HERE I ALWAYS SAY TO MYSELF THIS IS MY FAVOURITE PLACE, THERE IS SO MANY BEAUTIFUL AREAS FOR EXPLORING IT NEVER ENDS. I HAVE CAME TO THE CONCLUSION THAT I AM PROBABLY A BIT OBSESSED WITH ALL OF THE ANCIENT RUINS AND FASCINATED BY THE INCAS. MAYBE ITS BECAUSE I AM SEEING A SIMILAR RESEMBLANCE TO MY HOMELAND SCOTLAND AND THE WAY SOME ANCIENT RUINS ARE, HOW THEY ARE POSITIONED, A LOT OF SIMILARITIES IN WAYS WHICH SEEMS TO ALMOST STRIKE A CORD WITH ME, EVEN THOUGH IT MAY SOUND STRANGE OR UNEXPECTED TO OTHERS.

 

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MY ADVENTURE TODAY STARTS IN PISAC – TEMPLE OF THE SUN, PISAC IS KNOWN AS A HUB FOR TOURISTS. IT HAS A GREAT MARKET, GREAT RESTAURANTS, A NICE MIXTURE OF ACCOMMODATION AND A GOOD PLACE TO START IF YOU WANT TO STAY IN THE SACRED VALLEY. FOR ME, TODAY IS ALL ABOUT EXPLORING THE TEMPLE OF THE SUN AND I EVEN WENT AND WORE MY KILT. LOCALS KEPT ASKING IF I WAS FROM SCOTLAND AND WHERE WAS MY SKIRT, US SCOTS ARE INFAMOUS EVERYWHERE EVEN AMONG PERUVIAN LOCALS, SO I FINALLY CAVED IN AND DECIDED IT WAS TIME TO GET THE KILT ON. IT'S FUNNY AS YOUR DON'T TEND TO BUMP INTO MANY SCOTS OUT HERE,IT SEEMS LIKE A RARE SIGHT BUT THE LOCALS WERE VERY AWARE OF OUR TRADITIONAL KILT WHICH MADE ME SMILE. UNDERSTANDABLE GIVEN THE IMPORTANCE OF TEXTILES IN THE CULTURE HERE TO TELL STORIES ABOUT OUR ROOTS.

 

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PISAC – TEMPLE OF THE SUN IS WHERE THE MOST IMPORTANT AND MEANINGFUL EVENTS WERE HELD, AND THERE IS AN IMPORTANT TOWER PLACED INSIDE TO ENSURE IT WAS AT THE HIGHEST ALTITUDE POINT. ONLY ONE OF TWO SUN TEMPLES KNOWN IN PERU THAT HAVE BEEN DISCOVERED SO FAR, THE OTHER BEING MACHU PICCHU WHICH WE ALL KNOW. UNLIKE MACHU PICCHU, PISAC WAS INVADED BY THE SPANISH AROUND 600YRS AGO DAMAGING MUCH OF THE SITE BUT AT THE SAME TIME THANKFULLY LEAVING A LOT OF THE KEY AREAS WHICH WOULD HAVE BEEN USED FOR GREAT IMPORTANCE IN ASTRONOMICAL TERMS. ALL OF THE ORIGINAL STONE WORK APPEARS TO STILL BE AROUND MINUS THE STONES THAT HAVE BEEN DAMAGED OR REMOVED. ONE OF THE REASONS MACHU PICCHU WAS NOT INVADED WAS BECAUSE IT IS MUCH DEEPER IN THE JUNGLE AND THE SPANISH WERE AFRAID OF GOING INTO THE JUNGLE DUE TO ALL THE DANGEROUS ANIMALS, INSECTS AND PLANTS THAT THEY KNEW EXISTED. IT WAS ALSO VERY WELL HIDDEN AND THEY HAD NO IDEA THE VALUE OF WHAT WAS THERE HENCE THE REASON WHY A LOT OF THE INCAS FLED INTO THE JUNGLE BECAUSE THEY KNEW HOW TO HANDLE THEMSELVES IN THE AMAZON.

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MY DAY EXPLORING TODAY WAS A ONCE IN A LIFETIME EXPERIENCE. I MUST OF WALKED 20KM, FINDING HIDDEN TUNNELS IN THE MOUNTAIN THEN FINDING MYSELF AT THE OTHER END IN A PLACE I WOULD NEVER OF EXPECTED. MAKING MY WAY UP TO THE HIGHER PARTS OF THE TEMPLE WAS WHERE A LOT OF THE ARCHITECTURE WAS AT ITS BEST, THE WEALTHIER OR PEOPLE OF HIGH IMPORTANCE WOULD STAY IN THESE AREAS AND THE LOWER LANDS WERE NORMALLY FOR THE LIKES OF FARMERS. MY TIME SPENT HERE WAS FROM SUNRISE TO SUNSET, I DIDN'T WANT TO LEAVE AS FELT SO NATURAL THERE, AND AS IF MORE TO FIND, BUT IT WAS TIME TO GO AFTER A FULL DAY OF BEING A SCOT GETTING LOST IN AN ANCIENT TEMPLE.

18th May

 

OLLANTAYTAMPO OR IN QUECHA – ULLANTAYTAMPU, INFAMOUS FOR ITS FORTRESS AND RUINS LOOKS LIKE A PLACE THAT WAS BUILT BY GIANTS, AND THE STONES LOOK AS IF THEY COULD ONLY HAVE BEEN MOVED BY THE GODS THEMSELVES. IT FELT AS IF I WAS AN ANT THAT HAD FOUND MY WAY ONTO A GIANT GAME OF CHESS. I WOULD HAVE BEEN A HAPPY EMPEROR IF I WAS THE MAN WHO HAD OWNED THIS FINE ESTATE, BUT NO, THIS MAGNIFICENT ESTATE BELONGED TO EMPEROR PACHAKUTIQ, NAME MEANING “EARTH SHAKER” I CAN UNDERSTAND HOW HE GOT THE NAME.


 

IT WAS A LITTLE FRUSTRATING WHEN I ARRIVED AT OLLANTAYTAMPO DUE TO SO MANY TOURISTS. VERY MUCH A HOT SPOT AND SOMEWHAT AN EASIER RUIN TO EXPLORE MAKING IT THE PERFECT PLACE FOR TOURISTS. I EXPLORED THE AREA QUICKLY KEEPING MY EYES PEELED FOR ANY DIRT PATHS WITH NO TOURISTS, THEN FINDING MYSELF IN A PART OF OLLANTAYTAMPO THAT HAD NO TOURISTS. FIRST IMPRESSION WAS IT WAS AN OLD BUILDING THAT I KNEW WOULD NOT ATTRACT MANY TOURISTS, BUT NO, I WAS WRONG. I FOUND A LITTLE DIRT PATH THAT LED ALL THE WAY UP THE BACK OF THE MOUNTAIN ABOVE OLLANTAYTAMPO AND THIS WAS THE PERFECT GETAWAY SPOT THAT I KNEW WOULD LEAD ME TO SOMEWHERE COOL, THERE WAS NO WAY THAT THIS PATH WAS LEADING NOWHERE. I WAS RIGHT, I GOT AMAZING VIEWS OF PINKUYLLUNA WHICH ARE DIRECTLY OPPOSITE OLLANTAYTAMPO ORIGINALLY USED AS INCAN STORE HOUSES FOR PRESERVING FOOD. BUT THIS WAS NOT THE END OF MY EXPLORING, ME BEING WHO I AM AND WANTING TO ADVENTURE MORE I CLIMBED A LITTLE HIGHER LOOKING AT MY GPS WHICH WAS NOW SITTING AT AROUND 3000M ORIGINALLY BEING AT THE SAME LEVEL AS OLLANTAYTAMPO 2,792M.

 


 

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THIS WAS IT, I COULD SEE SOME STONES IN MY SIGHT ABOUT 100M AWAY. THE PATHWAY I WAS ORIGINALLY ON HAD VANISHED WHICH SEEMED VERY ODD, IT WAS TIME TO GO OFF TRACK. ALL I COULD SEE WAS CACTUSES, AND I WAS NOT LOOKING FORWARD TO THIS PART, MY LUCK WITH THE CACTI IS NOT GOOD. THAT MOMENT OF REALISATION WHEN YOU'RE THINKING OKAY I AM EITHER GOING FOR THIS ALL IN, OR GOING BACK.

 

WELL YOU CAN PROBABLY GUESS, I WENT FOR IT! PICKING MY SPOTS CAREFULLY AS I DODGED EVERY CACTUS I COULD, SLOWLY MAKING MY WAY UP.

 

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 “YES, MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!” ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED. I WAS RIGHT ABOUT THE RUINS, THERE WERE TWO BUILDINGS AND TO TOP IT OFF CLEAR 360 VIEWS OF THE SACRED VALLEY. THIS IS WHY I ADVENTURE, WHEN I GET TO PLACES THAT I FEEL I NEED TO GO TO AND IT ENDS UP WORKING OUT, ITS SOMETHING I BELIEVE AND FEEL THE HUMAN BODY, MIND AND SOUL NEEDS IN ORDER TO FLOURISH. THERE IS ALWAYS A LITTLE FEAR OF NOT KNOWING, WILL I GET BACK? WHAT IS UP THERE? QUESTIONS AND DOUBTS ALWAYS COME INTO MIND BUT THESE ARE WHAT I LIKE TO CALL THE SHADOW SELF PUTTING DOUBTS IN US TRYING TO LEAD US ASTRAY. ONE BUILDING UP HERE WAS A SIMPLE 4X4 STONE BUILDING NOTHING OVERLY SPECIAL ON FIRST GLANCE, BUT THE OTHER BUILDING IS WHAT REALLY BAFFLED ME. IT ALMOST RESEMBLED A SIMILAR STRUCTURE TO THE AREA AT THE SUN TEMPLE AT PISAC FOR WHEN THE SUN WOULD COME IN AT A CERTAIN TIME OF THE YEAR ALIGNING UP WITH THE STARS. IT WAS AS IF DOORS WOULD HAVE BEEN HERE, AS WHEN LOOKING CLOSELY YOU COULD SEE IN THE AREA THAT MAYBE A DOOR WAS HINGED, AND IT LOOKED LIKE THIS STRANGE SET UP WAS ALMOST THAT OF A STARGATE PORTAL IN A WAY. ONE CAN ONLY WONDER AND GUESS BUT YET AGAIN ANOTHER MYSTERY.

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IT WAS NOW GETTING DARK, I HAD NO IDEA HOW I WAS GETTING DOWN AND I DEFINITELY DIDN'T WANT TO GO BACK THE SAME WAY I CAME UP. THE PLAN WAS AVOID ALL CACTUS, AND AFTER ROAMING AROUND FOR A WHILE I CAME ACROSS ANOTHER PATHWAY WHICH ENDED UP LEADING STRAIGHT TO THE BACK ENTRANCE OF OLLANTAYTAMPO. THIS WORKED OUT PERFECT, SOMEONE WAS WATCHING OUT FOR ME AFTER ALL, AND MY INTUITION THIS WHOLE TRIP HAS BEEN BANG ON. IT WAS AROUND 6PM, I WAS NOW BACK IN THE MAIN AREA OF OLLANTAYTAMPO WITH NOT ANOTHER SOUL IN SITE, ALL THE TOURISTS HAD GONE, NO SELFIE STICKS HITTING YOU IN THE BACK OF YOUR HEAD OR TOURISTS TRAMPLING OVER YOU. I TOOK A BIG LONG DEEP BREATH TAKING MY TIME TO EXPLORE THE RUINS ONE LAST TIME BEFORE MAKING MY WAY BACK TO CALCA.

 

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LESSON TODAY - “TRUST YOURSELF, IT WILL ALWAYS WORKOUT, EVEN IF IT DOESN'T YOU WILL ALWAYS LEARN SOMETHING NEW ABOUT YOURSELF OR THE ENVIRONMENT YOU ARE IN”. 

 

SOLO TRIP TO PERU (PART 1).

PERU

11th May 2017
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There has been this pull to go too Peru for a while now, there is many places l have wanted to go in the world but for some reason l have always had the gut feeling of going to Peru following my intuition seeing what comes of it. 
I finally made the commitment of booking a flight a week before travelling without having any intentions of organizing accommodation, places to go, things to do, people to meet, the only intentions l had was climbing some mountains, experiencing the culture & giving myself the freedom of really indulging in everything that Peru could offer for the short time l was here. 

 

Right now as l sit in London Gatwick airport getting myself as ready as l can ever before my adventures ahead.

Edinburgh – London, London – Madrid, Madrid – Lima, then Lima to Cusco, over 24hrs travelling.

This was going to be a long journey but l knew it was going to be worth it.  I was feeling anxious mixed with excitement, nervous and thinking this is going to be very spontaneous having no plans, but lets see how truly in tune l am with my intuition and where it will guide me. 

Acting very random like this for me is a something l am not used to especially travelling to the other side of the world having zero plans.   Ever since retiring from professional Ice Hockey after 7 years and playing for 21 years total, l can definitely agree with myself that l have & had committed myself to the sport of Ice Hockey for a long time, somewhat the sports industry can be very regimented in its own way which is one thing l wanted to escape. 
After a year of being retired it was getting to a point in my Ice Hockey career that l was all of a sudden feeling a new calling, l had the urge to get outside more, climb mountains, hiking places l have not yet explored, meeting new people from different groups, wanting to inspire, practicing yoga & meditation daily, wanting to change my diet and really just live a different way of life that hockey could no longer serve for me. It was a very different way of living compared to my hockey days.   Being away from the hockey world, bringing all these new practices into my daily lifestyle helped me realize new goals, ambitions and desires that l feel l need to achieve.  Lets see what going to Peru, following my inner compass does and where it leads me. 


12th May 2017
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After all the hours of travelling, l finally touch down in Cusco, Peru laughing to myself as l luckily pick up my checked bag which l had been thinking would probably get lost. I’m off to a good start “No lost luggage”. 

It's 10am in the morning, lm thinking to myself okay lm in the airport where do l want to go.  I want to be in the sacred valley, l ask a cab driver to take me to the bus station in Cusco which is only 10 minute ride from the airport.   He drops me off, cars are buzzing about, people are shouting Spanish maybe Quechua (Official Language of people living in the Andes and highlands of South America) I really couldn’t tell, my Spanish is not the best, l can get by but nowhere near as good as it should be, and as far for Quechua l know zero words “This is going to be interesting”.  There are colectivo’s (cheap shared public transport) with men shouting all sorts of names of places, l have no idea where most of these places are let alone jump on a colectivo.   This man shouts Calca, the name Calca feels right so l look at my map “Yes, its in the sacred valley”, l commit to going being the only westerner onboard and 5 minutes later off we go, trip to Calca takes just over an hour through the sacred valley passing many villages, mountains, farm lands and seeing fewer and fewer touristy places. “This is exactly what l want, away from all the tourists giving me the freedom to really immerse myself in the local culture”

I’m finally in Calca, small town situated in one of the eight districts in Peru sitting at 2,928m above sea level. I’m already loving this just from the scenery alone, everywhere l look there is mountains upon mountains but bare in mind l still have no place to stay, lm carrying my backpack and bag, cant talk a word of Quechua not the best Spanish and l have been travelling for over 24hrs. This is such a funny and interesting situation l have put myself in, lm not feeling worried as l did bring my camping gear incase l really do have no options.   I’m walking down the small streets of Calca trying to make a connection with anyone so l can get help with a safe place to stay. 

I have found myself in the Calca Local Market, its beautiful, fruits & veggies everywhere, locals shouting at me trying to reel me in so l buy from them. I know exactly what they are thinking “Fresh Westerner meat, he must have money” I manage to dodge my way through the market without being tempted to buy any of the wonderful foods on offer stumbling on this wall filled with hand made signs advertising cars, mopeds for sale along with random messages. One hand made sign stood out indicating rooms for rent which are cheap and the address, l tried to figure out the address on my map but l was having no luck so l flagged down a Mototaxi showed him the address, praying inside my head l was not going to get lead down a dark alley way. 

He takes me straight out of Calca about half a mile down the road onto a dirt track, lm thinking “This is it, l have made a stupid decision, why have l done this”, lm border line panicking that l have screwed up big time, eventually he stops after only being in the Mototaxi for no more than 5 minutes. He points at this house, l pay the man 1 sol which is about 20 pence.  I take a deep breath, keep composure and tell myself always be optimistic, your all good.  I walk through the large fenced gates onto a Maize Farm with a beautiful old farm house sitting along side the Urubamba River overlooking Pitusiray Mountain (4,991m) “Im already saying to myself, lm going to camp here regardless and climb to the top of that Mountain” 

I was in luck, a lovely lady with a big smile comes out introduces herself as Mevsim from Turkey asking how can she help me? “I have been travelling for over 24 hrs from Scotland, need a place to stay while in Peru and l have found myself at this Farmhouse which l think is the one that was advertised in Calca” Mevsim chuckles and says “WOW you’re a long long way from home aren’t you, yes you can stay here but this is not my place it is a man called Cesar he is a local farmer who rents out rooms to travellers in his home”  

This is perfect, l have travelled all the way from the other side of the world and l have managed to find a place to stay, plus being in luck that there was only one room available.  Mevsim shows me to my room and says “Cesar should be round soon and then you can both negotiate a price” I’m thinking to myself this is the most random thing l have ever done, never have l put myself in a situation like this, normally lm always organized with somewhat a set plan.  Cesar arrives about 4pm we negotiate a price of 250sol for 2 weeks, which worked out to being around 60 pounds. lm astonished by the price its super cheap, the home lm staying in is a 5-bedroom house with 3 toilets and 2 showers, open plan kitchen/lounge with a big fire place, very basic but it has everything l need.  The house is occupied by Tito a Turkish man who has been travelling Peru for 6 months on his own spiritual journey, Mevsim who has been travelling Peru for a year trying to build a yoga retreat in the Sacred valley, Gary another Scottish guy who has been in Peru for 2 years living a simple life playing his drums, learning about shamanism and working within the local communities learning about there culture, and then there is Marias from London with his beautiful 11 month year old dog Moses who has been in Peru for just under a year also living a similar life to Gary. These are two people l have gravitated towards instantly because l am very much interested in learning about the local culture and their ways. 

Myself and Gary already both being Scottish already had similarities and clicked right away which turned into a really strong friendship over my time in Peru.  We both headed to the market as l was craving getting some exotic fruits that tempted me when l had arrived earlier that day.  Gary could talk Spanish understanding Quechua a little which helped big time especially when it came to bartering.  I bought myself 2 huge Mangos, 4 big tomatoes, some sort of Peruvian cheese, biggest Avocado l had ever seen, 3 Chirimoyas (Tastes like a bounty chocolate bar) 3 bottles of water, 4 sweet potatoes all for a total of 40 sol which is roughly 9 British Pounds. Once again astonished by the price of food, cheap and all from the local land, mountains or jungle that is a 100% natural no GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) My day was getting better & better, l was buzzing how everything had fit into place so perfectly.  

After a lovely experience bartering with the locals at the market getting lots of delicious fruits & veggies with Gary we headed back to the farmhouse, we both decided we would make a big meal for all the houseguests.  Everyone in the house when making food would share however little they had, this is something l learned fast that they did even when l initially arrived earlier in the day they asked if l was hungry, if l wanted tea or if there is anything they could help me with. This all felt a little surreal how people were so generous, caring, considering l was a stranger who they didn’t know.  

After my first day adventuring, hoping to find someplace to stay and hoping to get shelter somewhere safe, it turned out to be an amazing day ending the night off by cooking a big meal for all the new friends l had made round the table sharing stories, getting to know one another, playing instruments, singing songs, painting and laughing till our bellies hurt. 

Todays lesson - there are still good people out there, trust your intuition, it only gets better.

 

13th May 2017
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I was very excited about my adventures today after what l had got chatting about with all the other guests at the table the previous night getting all sorts of ideas.  l had gotten up early around 6am, morning stretch then straight into meditation by the river.   I had always dreamed of being surrounded or experiencing being in an environment that hummingbirds would thrive in, l really lucked out with this farm house l had found, it was thriving in all sorts of plants that attract hummingbirds.   I’m sitting there in meditation, all of a sudden its as if mini helicopters are whizzing past my head with all the hummingbirds flying around me, lm in awe as if lm in some sort of secret garden strictly for hummingbirds, it was beautiful and fast became my morning routine on a daily basis. 

Plans today were to head to Chinchero, a small town sitting at 3,762m above sea level thought to be ruled by Inca Typac Yupanqui (“Noble Inca Accountant “Head of the Inca army in 1463, ruling until his death in 1493).  I was very excited for this, Gary had suggested he may be able to get his friend to join us who he had met in the jungle a few years previous while focusing on learning about plant medicine & the culture in the jungle from his time spent within a certain community being invited into the inner circle by the Shaman in the tribe.  A Shaman or shamanka is a man or woman who uses old ways to connect with nature through ancient spiritual practices, some that they have learnt from there ancestors and within there indigenous cultures, to work with the universal energy that connects all living things on this planet/universe working with their skills, ancient methods and sometimes there knowledge of plants within their environment in order to help there community in various ways.  A shaman is not just anyone he or she is someone who is sometimes selected within the community/tribe due to certain abilities or traits that they possess or more traditionally coming from a lineage that dictates that they have a natural capacity and understanding to work with nature & the unseen forces that most people do not fully understand. These are people who have also had to overcome certain challenges proving their soul purpose, trusting in their faith and knowledge surviving there souls initiation with whatever challenges are set out, knowing exactly what they have come to do on this planet for the healing of mother earth, so that they can help others and create a universal balance.  When it comes to a plant shaman which we see more of in Peru and South American culture, they are much like an equivalent of a medicine man which we all know of from native American culture and other cultures who work with plants helping humans in their process to overcome emotional stress and problems plus physical alignments and diseases.  In there community they are a person known as a miracle worker of sorts, some of what they do is what we can see in a more modern sense in the work of counselors and herbalists who practice alternative medicine except with additional ancient elements added in.  It all sounds quite surreal & farfetched “I get that” But for the Inca and many indigenous cultures across the world even in my home Scotland there are still practices/ceremonies going on to this day, however, these are more done in secret than what l have witnessed in Peru where they practice their spirituality and old customs very openly and proudly which is known throughout the world. 

We hit the local market grabbing a nice fresh blended juice before making our way to Chinchero; Gary had become friendly with a few locals in the market particularly one lady who had the cheese stall who he would call mama, his Peruvian Mum.  She would invite him over for nice home cooked meals in exchange for his stories about Scotland & the westerner side of the world. She could not talk one word of English but being in her company at her cheese stall l quickly understood why Gary and her got on, she had such good vibes, very caring woman and she was the contact for Gary’s friend the Shaman.  We asked if she could help us send a message out so we could get the Shaman to meet us at Chinchero, so l could have the opportunity the cultures and practices first hand from an authentic reputable individual from the community who undertakes the role of a shaman.  The Shaman which l will refer to him as (His identity and people in these communities like to protect their identity unless they choose to invite people in) would visit this area from time to time because of some of his family members.   Gary explained to mama where we would be if he was to show up at Chinchero, the seed had been planted so now it was a matter of us getting there which took roughly about 2hrs.

After an already exciting morning we finally made it Chinchero for 9am, the sun was very bright and strong with clear skies.  I could definitely feel the change in altitude, l had done a little research that its smart to buy a little bag of cocoa leaves, chew on them which in return would help with the minor side effects of altitude sickness.  I was only getting a little bit of a sore head, which quickly went away.  “Always be aware of the local herbs and their uses as they can come in very handy and majority of the time can be bought at a local stall, do your research” 

Gary had been to Chinchero before having a good idea of the layout of the area, it was empty. We had the whole area to ourselves it was bliss, not one tourist only the company of a few cows roaming about and the sound of water trickling down the farming terraces which would be used for growing potatoes, olluco, oca, quinoa and fava beans.  The structure and how the Incas work with the land is remarkable, it’s a sight l have never ever witnessed before and cant quite believe how well they have adapted the land for there lifestyle.  Its my first day here and lm already very content with what l have seen/experienced if l was to leave the next day. 

We get to the most perfect spot, well one of the most perfect spots there was to many too count. We post up, chill out for a good 45 minutes in the sun embracing all the sites & the unique architecture created by the Incas and before we realize it, there is a man walking towards us. Gary speaks up, says something in Quechua “Rimaykullayki, Allillanchu” Hello How are you? It was the shaman, god knows how he managed to get the message so fast. But he told us Mama had called his brother who had luckily been with him and he was only 30 minutes from Chinchero.  As we got chatting and as l got more familiar with Shaman we then discussed with him some of the local practices that he had discussed with Gary previously and that l was aware but wanted to know about and enquired if it was possible to at some point observe one of these ceremonies.  I was surprised and fortunate to find that the Shaman was welcoming and understood our respect for his culture, inviting us to actually partake in a sacred ceremony with him right here at Chinchero which was a massive honor.  

Shaman had brought with him a Chakapa (Would make a rattle noise made with leaves) and a Quena (Flute used by the Incas).  We were going to be partaking in the Sacred San Pedro Cactus Ceremony, l had an idea of what San Pedro was and l knew it is not an illegal drug, it is a natural medicine often used in sacred ceremonies, but to my knowledge and intention l had zero plans to partake in any ceremonies but it felt right at the time to participate and learn about this ceremony first hand from a wise individual who had experience in this area, l got really positive vibes from the Shaman and the environment, “It felt safe to participate”. This wasn’t some retreat experience ran by westerners exploiting the culture of South America by pretending to be shamans or luring individuals into a money maker scheme encouraging travellers to partake in an experience where they give them plant medicines that they know nothing about in comparison to an authentic shaman who is engaging in an authentic ceremony learned through their heritage.  I was dealing with a legit individual who was widely respected in their community having extensive knowledge in their chosen field. 

I thought to myself, l have gotten this far, everything feels right, good vibes have constantly been flowing it would be rude not to partake in the ceremony after the effort and chance of the shaman getting here and allowing us to participate.  We had situated ourselves on a particular large rock looking right down the valley sitting on hand carved carvings in the rocks that were made to be seats. 

“It was all perfect, everything felt right”

Shaman started to chant while playing his instruments smoking his large hand rolled mapacho (Mapacho also known as Nicotiana Rustica is a pure form of tobacco which would help & enhance a medicine journey) As the chanting continued while at the same time getting smoke blown all around us cleansing the area of all bad spirits, l could feel the sensations of Mapacho that the shaman insisted l take some puffs of“Of course l coughed, it was strong, l could instantly feel the effects of the pure tobacco” then as l stopped coughing the shaman came to me again chanting offering me a cup of the San Pedro.

Every single thought came rushing into my head that you could imagine, what will happen, l'm scared, what will l see?, how will l feel?, will l die?, but ultimately l had really zero idea and l knew from researching it was safe especially with a legit Shaman beside minimising any concerns. Gary had told me via translating from the shaman “When you participate in a plant medicine journey always have a few intentions of what you want, maybe ask for guidance, ask for answers but nothing too in-depth as its only your first time, simple questions “No Problem”

I took the leap of faith drinking the medicine in one go, it was almost like sour thick water, not unpleasant but not amazing just bearable.  After drinking the medicine probably not the best thing to ask “How long does this last?” five to ten hours Gary responded - “Okay well l'm in it now.” Bearing this in mind, l am high in the mountains with the gods doing something most likely that the Incas did in exactly the same spot while being in a high energy area.  This is part of the Inca culture, there is a reason why the Incas were one of the cultures deemed to bevery highly intelligent and intune with there understanding and connection to nature.  This was it, l wanted to come to Peru, follow my intuition immersing myself in the culture, learning not only about the Incas and the South American Cultures and practice but also more about myself and write about this experience.  

Okay back to the San Pedro, I was definitely feeling something; it’s a strange strange thing these medicines, often people tend to purge.  I purged within about an hr, which was very natural, nothing forced just something bad that needed to come out. After purging l could feel as if a weight had been lifted off my shoulders, l felt light & very happy, l was getting the feeling l was buzzing like a bee but at the same time l was very much in myself processing and understanding things in a way l had never ever understood them before, l was connected with the shaman and Gary on a subconscious level while at the same time feeling very much as if l was connected to this earth on a whole new level.   I went in with intentions & questions that l had been advised before the ceremony, actually getting an answer to why certain things are the way they are. “Mind Blown” I mean for me to put down in text what l experienced is something l just cant find the words to express, its an experience that very much healed me in the ways l needed healing, understanding certain scenarios from a different perspective and really allowing myself to be more open to the universe and our soul purpose of being a human being. It was all a magical journey, not intense well maybe sometimes but on that note it was special to me, something l will never ever abuse nor want to take recreationally.  These medicines are serious and must be worked within the right circumstance especially being in the right environment and with the right people, always respect any medicine or drug as the westerners like to call it. Its not a game or drug to do fun, it is a medicine, it’s a way of lifestyle here in Peru and very much a deep connection of who Peruvian people are.  

It's around 6pm we have been up here since 9am, started the ceremony around 11am and l am still feeling very much that l am on this Medicine Journey, its coming in waves, nice waves nothing aggressive or negative in anyway. We all feel the urge to make a move throughout the ruins making our way up the terraces then onto another position where there is more rocks.  The medicine has not affected me physically in a huge way, a little but still able to safely navigate and work with my body to get to my chosen destination.  I just cant seem to get over how magnificent the architecture is that has been done by the Incas let alone how they managed to carve such perfect carvings. It truly is work of the Gods. 

The day is coming to an end, its getting dark by this time its approaching 10pm on a Saturday and we are going to be making our way back, hitching a ride however we can to the main road that will take us back to Calca.  Gary’s friend and now my friend the Shaman he had to leave a little earlier as he had some family business to attend. 

We slowly make our way onto the one road that leads in & out of Chinchero trying to flag down any sort of person with a form of transport so we don’t have to face the long walk back to Calca which would probably take us close to 12hrs. 

As we are trying to flag down anything, 3 lovely Quechua ladies come racing out, offering us Tea in a lovely handmade Qiru (Incan cup, made from the likes of wood, ceramics, silver or gold) Unfortunately this wasn’t gold it was Ceramic but l was not complaining, we had just been offered tea from 3 beautiful bright colored clothed Quechua ladies.  But wait a minute lm now thinking “Im still feeling the San Pedro, its still coming in waves, is this another sort of medicine that lm about to be blasted with again into another realm”   

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They invite us in to there living space, l would say roughly the same size as a tennis court, dirt floors, 4 benches covered in Alpaca Fur and a few small stalls which was filled with all sorts of handmade clothing items, straps, hats etc…  Since l cant talk a word of Quechua Gary takes the lead, they ask us to sit down so they can get to know us, its all very kind hearted chat.  After warming upto them, l decide to drink the tea after them telling us its Coca Tea “I was so happy with this as l had a splitting headache and had drank all the remaining bottles of my water”. These woman were my savior for not getting a sore head, they showed us how they make all their clothes, how they use the natural elements to dye there clothes from plants, insects to animals it was an amazing experience.   In this small confined space eleven generations of families lived, l was amazed.  They had next to nothing except tea, some food, alpacas and the skills they had learned of growing up to be a Quechua family woman.  I thought they were in there twenties or at least early thirties but no the youngest was late 40s and oldest early 70s.  Just proves what healthy eating and good environments does! I got on instantly with Janette she was the 2nd oldest of the three, she gifted me 2 handmade bracelets that l was honored to receive taking into consideration that these woman have very little, l made sure to buy majority of my gifts for family and friends back home from these ladies helping them that much more with there families needs.  

We spent roughly 2 hours with these three lovely ladies, learning all we could embracing the local culture, laughing and lots of hugs before they helped us get on a bus back towards home. 

Lesson today “Always expect the unexpected but don’t be scared to fully commit yourself into the situation you are presented with if it feels right, its outcome may give you the power, strength & drive for success” 

TRISTAN'S SPIRIT OF SCOTLAND.

30th June 2017
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Started with the 9.45am train from Dundee to Perth then catching the 11.15am train at Perth joining up with Jawn who got the train in Glasgow heading straight to Inverness. Always love getting the train, way less stressful, can put the feet up, relax & enjoy a nice hot tea. 

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Train journey took around 2.5hrs to Inverness, very easy, best to make sure you get a good seat as soon as you get on the train as it can be very busy - Inverness is a popular destination. The train journey went very fast, plenty of beautiful views on route and lots of things to plan with Jawn for the adventures we were about to embark on taking us up north to the Orkney Islands.   

As soon as we arrived in Inverness we didn’t want to waste anytime, we headed straight to Ardlair Guest House getting a very warm welcome from Gloria the owner of the home, full of character and good vibes.  She was asking us all sorts of questions, what brings us to Inverness, where we are from, what we do, almost getting interrogated but in a pleasant way, it did make us chuckle when she thought that we were German haha, “I mean Jawn is from Glasgow and doesn’t sound one bit foreign, i am from Dundee with an American/Canadian twang from my years living and playing professional Ice hockey internationally over there,” It was a funny start to our morning at Ardlair Guest House, Inverness. 

After getting comfortably settled into our room we headed straight into town, short 10 minute walk if that, grabbing a quick bite to eat on the go then straight into exploring.  Our plan was to climb Craig Phadrig, a hill fort on the summit, which is known to have been the base of one of the chief kings of Scotland, Bridei Mac Maelchon who was the king of the Picts from 554 to 584.   A hill fort is a type of rampart made of earth, stone and/or wood with an external ditch.  I was very excited to get to Craig Phadrig, l am a big fan when it comes to the Scottish history and the people who accommodated such areas.   We headed out of town following the main road past the cemetery and golf course, then making our way alongside the canal river following the pathway.   As we were walking down the pathway we kept getting asked by people if we were following the “Biggest little railway in the world”, we had no idea what they were even talking about.  Quickly finding out that it will be an attempt to build the biggest Steam Engine model railway travel ever constructed, stretching 72 miles along the Great Glen Way, from Fort William to Inverness. They would have to build a railway track 3 inches wide moving through all sorts of terrain while it makes its way through the Scottish Highlands. Very cool, funny how we bumped into something like this “the benefits of adventuring” it was getting filmed/documented for a Channel 4 TV series by Love Productions, “Keep your eyes peeled, lm sure it will be something fun to watch when it gets aired”. 

After scoping that out we then made our move onwards to Craig Phadrig. Finally making it to the forested hill with a small 564ft climb to the top, the views were gorgeous of Beauly Firth to the North and River Ness to the North-East. The walk is easy to the top, nothing too strenuous, l highly recommend this if you’re a fan of views or like the outdoors especially if you're in Inverness for a short time.  We then took our time heading down back towards town, grabbing some dinner then getting an early night for our early start. 

1st July 2017
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Always way easier getting up when you know there is more adventures ahead. 5.30am start - shower, cereal for breakfast then head to Inverness train station for 7am train to Thurso. Our whole trip we would be using our Spirit of Scotland pass that allows travel on trains, buses, coaches and ferries on a huge number of routes around the whole of Scotland, making it super easy getting about rather than trying to fuss about with all sorts of different tickets. 
I was expecting the train to be very busy similar to the train l got from Perth-Inverness, it was empty considering this is one of Scotland’s six great scenic routes on the far North Line. The train journey took around 4hrs, definitely didn’t disappoint showing off why its one of the top scenic routes. 

We arrived in Thurso at 11.59am and jumped a coach straight to Scrabster a few hours before our Northlink ferry to Stromness at 1.15pm. There are a few options you have getting from Thurso to Scrabster including walking as it is only 1.8miles away. We wanted to have enough time so we could grab a Seafood lunch since Scrabster is known for fresh seafood. Unfortunately it wasn’t open, going with the second best option grabbing a quick snack at the ferry café. We then made a move towards Scrabster Loch located behind the lighthouse close to our departure gate.  Didn’t manage to make it all the way to the Loch we didn’t have enough time, but still finding a great place chilling out snapping some shots seeing our Northlink Ferry arrive into the harbour with its huge viking emblem on the side “Love this emblem “. 

We had about 30 minutes before our ferry departure. The walk took 20minutes to the departure gates, picked up our tickets, waited a few minutes then boarded the ferry for a short 1.5hr journey.  Once again no stress very chilled and easy “This is my main focus when travelling - “NO STRESS”. 

The ferry ride certainly didn’t disappoint, with comfortable seating and a clear day we could see for miles, as we cruised passed Hoy we got amazing views of the Old Man of Hoy (449 foot red sandstone stack, separated from the mainland by 60 metres giving its unique appearance and being one of the tallest stacks in Britain). What l would give right now to have my climbing gear and climb Old Man of Hoy, it has been added to the Scottish bucket list!

We arrived in Stromness, Orkney. We were booked in to stay at Stromness Hotel, easy 5 minute walk, check in then head to Skara Brae.  Skara Brae has been on my list for a while along with the other hundred places l want to visit in Scotland but this place particularly.  Skara Brae is a stone built Neolithic settlement consisting of eight clustered houses that were occupied around 3180BC to 2500BC.  What’s even more fascinating is that not a lot of people are aware that these date back older than Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids of Egypt. 

Unfortunately renting a bike or walking we would not make it in time to visit the site, it closes at 5.30pm. Quite sad about this but we had a back up plan to visit the stones of Stenness, Barnhouse settlement, Ness of Brodgar, Rings of Brodgar and check out the RSPB Scotland’s Brodgar Nature Reserve which were all within the vicinity of each other making it a great place to visit.  We quickly figured out that we could rent bicycles along the road, we walked 10 minutes from our hotel towards Orkney Cycle Hire. I was a little worried because it was almost 6pm and many places close early on the Orkney Island.  We were in luck being warmly greeted by the lovely lady who runs Orkney Cycle, renting us the bikes for £8 and said “hand them back whenever you can tonight and make sure not to get caught in the bad wind, Enjoy”. 

The skies were clear with a few clouds nothing too dramatic, we were not that worried about the weather but lm guessing she has more of a weary eye for the weather round here than what was predicted.   As we left all chuffed that our back up plan was working out for the 5 mile bike ride to the stones, we quickly learned that Orkney is very deceiving, even though it looks flat there is lovely long ascending hills with the added bonus of the wind the lady had warned us about blowing hard against us. The bike lady was right; the wind was very strong which made it ten times harder. This didn’t stop us reaching the stones. 

The Standing Stones of Stenness are one of many Neolithic Monuments, being one of the oldest henge sites in the British Isles that were very much associated with traditions and rituals for the Norse Gods.  
My favourite thing about it all is that the majority of the stone sites in Scotland and here in Orkney are all very well maintained, not overcrowded by tourists and the best thing is that you can really indulge in the elements of the magical structures. You are allowed to touch the stones, sit next to them without being interrupted by hundreds of tourists who just want a selfie, l mean there is nothing wrong with taking a selfie next to the stones but having the time to enjoy them is an extremely important part of the experience. These sacred sites are special, being able to appreciate them, is part of what its all about unlike places such as Stonehenge that has thousands of tourists on a constant basis and you can only get within 6 feet of the stones plus these are free to visit and not a money maker scheme as long as you are giving back to community of the islands and respecting the land. This is one reason why l really do love Scotland and what it has to offer!

After hanging out with the Stones of Stenness we then walked a few minutes towards the beautiful loch of Harray following the signs for Barnhouse settlement, another Neolithic site revealing the base structure of 15 houses.  This settlement dates back to 3000BC, another experience l will never forget. Walking into the houses and what’s left of them and imagining how life was back then - it's a very surreal moment comparing it to how we live to date. Something very special about these Barnhouses - being there having the chance to take it all in and appreciate them was amazing.

As this evening keeps escalating more and more back into the past, we make our way alongside the Stenness Watch Stone, which is known to mark the approach to Ring of Brodgar, our next destination.  Before you head to Ring of Brodgar make sure and have a look at either sides of the small bridge, you may see some of the old stepping-stones connected to the Barnhouse Village.  Everywhere l look or go lm making sure l have my eyes peeled “You never know what you might stumble on, there is still heritage sites that have yet to be uncovered” 

The Ring of Brodgar is beautiful, feeling very much mind blown already with the previous stones.  Now lm hanging out in what feels like an almost ancient stargate, there is no evidence to suggest this but this is the vibe lm getting, pictures of these Neolithic sites don’t do them justice. 
Getting the opportunity to travel to a place this beautiful with so much history in my homeland is a real privilege, especially having zero pressure of closing times.  It’s a true privilege us Scots have all this on our doorstep that is fully visible for the public eye, adding only more depth to why Scotland is a place you must visit. 

The weather was starting to escalate quickly, the wind was getting stronger, the rain was getting heavier, it was getting dark and we needed to cycle back.   The cycle back was not the easiest; there is a good reason why Orkney is one of the top self-sustainable islands in the world. Orkney having its exposure to the Atlantic and North Sea winds helping the land produce renewable energy.  Orkney is home to the highest concentration of small and micro turbines in the UK, over 500 domestic scale wind turbines and even more impressive is that Orkney has one of the lowest populations of any British Country.  Orkneys micro wind turbines saved over 50,000 tonnes of Co2 emissions to date.  Basically what lm trying to say is that Orkney gets extremely windy, making it very difficult cycling against the wind. 

Safe to say we made it back to our hotel settling down for the night and ready for our adventure to Skara Brae the next day. 

 

3rd July 2017
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All about Skara Brae today, like l previously mentioned l was super excited about visiting this place.  Skara Brae is only around 8 miles from Stromness, not far and we really lucked out again with a wonderful day on the island. Also known as the Scottish Pompeii, it really is as beautiful from all the reviews/pictures l have seen, we got our entrance tickets then straight into the visitor center for a short video explaining briefly what Skara Brae was, how much they understand about this culture but then again a lot of unknown mysteries. Then into a small museum filled with artifacts from the site, material used for building, what they eat etc.… All very interesting but what baffled me more is how little they know about this culture.  Its crazy to think that this place was only discovered in 1850 due to wild storms ripping the grass from a high dune later revealing the sacred site.  After leaving the small museum you then come to a small example house showing what it would of exactly been like during the time when this culture thrived, most people would only live until mid thirties if that.  Crazy to think how much things have changed in regards to life expectancy nowadays. 

Being inside the example house it was remarkable how well protected you were from outside being right next to the coast.  As we made our way out of the house towards Skara Brae myself and Jawn easily getting distracted by the Cairns people had previously built on the Bay of Skaill right next to the heritage site, we took a detour feeling it was relevant to add to the collection of Cairns that had been previously built. 

After being big kids building Stone Cairns we then headed to the site, l felt like l was in Lord of the Rings and a hobbit returning home, very very cool place.  I wish they still built homes like this. Maybe it’s an idea for the future. 

We spent a good amount of time circling the area, snapping away, and enjoying the views while trying not to get blasted by the sand the wind kept blowing in our face.  I recommend before visiting Skara Brae calling them in advance, they sometimes shut down the site if the wind is to strong bringing sand in from the Bay covering the site, Skara Brae is a very well preserved site with constant upkeep needed, make sure you always plan and have the option of two days you can visit incase one day its closed. 

I felt very content finally visiting the site and ticking another Scottish place off my list, it was then onto another adventure.  We headed down the coast back towards Stromness stopping at Yesnaby on the west coast of the Island, the views were insane, the structure of the Old Red Sandstone coastal cliffs were remarkable & very unique in there own way proving why Orkney is constantly thriving in beauty.  Please be very cautious and careful when approaching the edge of the cliffs, the sandstone can be brittle, slippy and recently a man slipped while taking a picture falling straight to his death. 

The day was not over we headed back to the Stomness hotel, picked up our bags they kindly let us leave behind after checking out, then grabbing the 5.40pm bus to Kirkwall taking 30 minutes.  

When we got to Kirkwall we headed to Shore hotel, short walk from the bus station, dumped our bags in the room then headed out for a bite to eat at Lucano a little Italian place located in the town centre.  After eating, we then met up with our friend Stephen Kemp Co-Founder of Kirkjuvagr Gin who gave us a tour of his building in progress for his new distillery/visitor centre that will be up and running sometime in 2018.  Stephen is a local man, great vibes, all about helping the local community grow as well as having his own construction company making him very aware of the layout of the land & having an even better understanding helping the Orkney Islands thrive in creating a self sustainable eco environment.  It’s a great thing seeing/learning about what Stephen is doing, what he has accomplished so far and all very exciting what the future holds for him in Scotland.   Stephen didn’t stop there he took us around the Island giving us a local insight and ending it with a good chat on top of Wideford Hill, giving us amazing 360 views of the Orkney Islands. 

What a great end to the night getting us ready for our adventure to Shapinsay, another Orkney island of the north coast of mainland Scotland. 

 

4th July 2017
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Was feeling sad today being it our final day adventuring with ScotRail as had to get back home but we were going to make sure we made the most of the day.  Their are two Spirit of Scotland pass options when you go for the ScotRail passes, one being four days unlimited travel over eight consecutive days for £139 or the other option of eight days unlimited travel over 15 days for £179.  Next time lm going to be sure to do the 15 day pass, there is so much to see alone on the Orkney islands that you could do it over a solid two weeks adventuring.

A solid hearty breakfast at the shore hotel, pack the rest of our clothes then leave them at the hotel, grab the ferry from Kirkwall-Shapinsay, 25 minutes long.  Shapinsay has a population of 300 people, the island is known for specialising in beef and lamb that export thousands of cattle and sheep annually fitting in with the Norse meaning for Shapinsay “Helpful Island”.  The main focus on this island probably has to be Balfour Castle one of the most northerly castles in the world making it very unique, created by two men David Balfour the 4th Laird of Balfour and Trenaby and David Bryce one of leading architects of his generation.  Unfortunately we could not get very close to the castle without a pre booked tour, the castle recently being bought for £2.7 million.  We still managed to get some beautiful snaps of the castle giving us more time to go explore rest of the island.   

Made our way down to the tower located right next to the Balfour gardens before you enter the castle grounds.  I was fascinated by this tower and no wonder, it was originally an abandoned Dishan Tower - Salt Water Shower with a Dovecote placed on top (Dovecote is free standing structures with pigeonholes for birds to nest) I thought this was extremely interesting and something that l wasn’t aware of at the time. 

It was then onto sit down and grab a bite to eat, we were starving. Stopped in the local and only café on the Island, The Smithy Café.  Having some delicious homemade lentil soup ending the munch with some fresh scones and raspberry jam.  The food didn’t disappoint giving us the energy for the remainder of our time on Shapinsay. 

We had about 3 hrs to kill until our return ferry; our plan was to walk round the whole island, very small only 11.4 sq miles.  Our only detour would be up to the highest point, Ward Hill 64m then back to continue on round the island. 

Every field we passed the cows would come rushing over to us, they were the friendliest cows l have ever come in contact with. Stroking their noses, feeding them grass, hanging with the cows having a good time.  Time just seemed to disappear, the sun was shining and we now had only about an hour left until we had to be back for the ferry, we rushed up through the fields to Ward Hill enjoying the views for a quick 10 minutes.
 

Then as Jawn and me were rushing back, there was one last fence we had to climb over.  I was impressed we made it until the last day before Jawn did something clumsy, he is good at being clumsy on the hills. Jawn jumped the fence landed the wrong way giving his ankle a twist, luckily coming out with only a bad sprained ankle & lots of bruising. We ended up flagging down a farmer in his truck coming to the rescue just makingour ferry as poor Jawn hobbled his way in the truck then onto the ferry. It was a nightmare, but thank god it happened on the last day. Jawn was full of many laughs, you can check out a picture of his ankle on his blog write up. 

Felt good to be safely back into Kirkwall having that scare on Shapinsay, we headed straight to Helgis, a local traditional Orkney Viking designed pub.  Helgi's certainly didn’t disappoint serving some great food.  Recommend if you plan on eating at any restaurants in Orkney book in advance, Helgi's was fully reserved; we lucked out getting a table.

The day had come to an end and so had our adventures, we were due to depart on the 11.45pm Northlink ferry in our sleeper cabin for the 7hr ferry right back into the port of Aberdeen catching the 7.39am train.  The train station is across the road from the port making it super simple to catch any train that fits in with your schedule. 

With the Spirit of Scotland pass you can use it for additional extras too like money off car hire, loch cruises and steam travel.  The journey planned using the pass went super smooth with zero problems.  There are a few passes available from Highland Rover, Rail and Sail to city days out from either Glasgow or Edinburgh.  Many options to accommodate whichever fits best. 

 

A huge thank you to ScotRail, Visit Orkney and Northlink Ferries, you are all awesome and l look forward to travelling with you all again. Thumbs up for all these services.

Hiking in Southern California.

Santiago Peak - 3rd January 2017.

Santiago Peak stands at 5,689ft (1,734m), it’s the first proper peak I’ve gotten to see after many visits to California. My closest friend, who I luckily get to visit in California, lives right in Santa Ana mountain range which makes it a super accessible peak for me to summit. I have been going to California for years & to this day I ask myself“Tristan, why have you never done this before?” Well now I have! 
I think the reason being was that I didn’t have the confidence, idea or really the motivation to do it. After retiring from professional ice hockey, focusing on the mountaineering aspect of my life I have gained a whole new perspective & respect for how much beauty we are surrounded by, even in clustered cities. Getting heavily involved in the mountaineering industry, I have become much more confident with navigation, long summer/winter day treks, more aware of the correct gear to bring & in general just being more prepared for the outdoors. 
I made a promise to myself that I was going to try summit 3 mountains while I was in Southern California.  Santiago was my first attempt, which I achieved first time. The other two that were on my list, San Gorgonio 11,503ft (3,506m) & San Jacinto 10,833ft (3,302m).  

My day started off bright and early with a 6am wake up and a 20 minute drive deeper into the Santa Ana Mountains. I took the Trabuco Canyon dirt road (4x4 required) leading me into the Cleveland National Forest. Normally there is a trail parking option for the Holy Jim Trail then about a 3 mile hike to the peak but with there being so many storms recently a lot of the roads had been blocked off due to flooding. This was a pain as I couldn’t get close to the trail start, having to park about 2 miles from the trailhead.
This certainly didn’t stop me as I was super determined to do this, as l parked my car, put my adventure pass on my dashboard (every national park in California requires an adventure pass for anyone wishing to explore the park, this helps the park rangers maintain the environment - not bad at “Only $5”). 

After two miles hiking I finally made it to the start of the Holy Jim Trail. The trail was very visible the whole way until I got to a cross section at about 4000ft when the trail meets the Main Divide Truck Trail. I couldn’t see any more paths for Holy Jim so I decided to take the truck trail, which eventually took me to the top of Santiago Peak. There is gorgeous 360 views all around and being an accessible peak for privileged drivers. With it being the tallest accessible place in the area there are a mass amount of radio communication towers all over which make the views less appealing but still being this high, quiet and with no one around I highly recommend this trek. 

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San Gorgonio - 15th January 2017.

Now we are getting a little bit more into the intense hiking, especially with the weather California has just encountered after 5 years of being in a serious drought. I have been coming to California for about 10 years, I have never ever seen California as green as it is now & was fortunate enough to experience snow on the mountains. This hike for me was an interesting one but a little bit of a disappointment, San Gorgonio sitting at 11,503ft (3,506m) is the highest peak in Southern California so obviously I was pretty set on completing this one regardless of the situations. 

Day started super early for me, it was about a two hour drive from where I was in Orange County. The park opens to visitors at 6am, I made sure I hit the road at 4am & no later so I could get there super fast avoiding all the crazy Californian traffic & hopefully get a gorgeous sunrise along the way. I made it just as the park was opening with the sun slowly peaking its way into the sky equally with gorgeous views of the moon. I thought I would have been the only one there but there were a few other ambitious hikers which is always nice to see. Last minute checks with my gear making sure l had everything as I definitely did not want to be 10,000ft plus worrying that I had forgot something.
The trail I planned on following is called the Vivian Creek Trail, when this trail is visible it will lead you straight to the top of San Gorgonio Mountain. The trailhead starts at around 6000ft which is nice as your already in the thick of it for the beginning of this trek since there is a lot of snow already & trees covered in ice from the cold windy nights. 

I was a little worried as I made my way up the trail because the snow was getting deeper & being solo on this hike was a little sketchy because I am one who really likes to challenge myself even when the situations are tough. This didn’t seem to stop me for the time being but only seemed to fuel me for what was next! l had never ever been in a climate like this before especially as the sun began to rise it was getting hot fast, the snow & ice that was on the trees was beginning to melt, massive crashes of sheets of ice falling down from trees. I was focusing on making sure that one of these trees that had been frozen solid caked in snow now melting was not going to fall on me, I was on a constant watch for falling ice. 
This for me was exciting, I had never ever experienced this before. Nature was showing her true beauty to me & l hadn’t even reached the top. It was exciting having to keep guard making sure no ice would fall on me, that I wouldn’t fall into a big snow pit & get lost - I just went with the flow enjoying nature keeping my wits about me and a wise head on my shoulders doing nothing stupid.  

So I’m about an hour and a half into my hike following the trail, there is two options - go straight where the trail disappears or go downhill and loop around then back up which probably would have added a few extra miles onto my hike. My navigation was saying go on the trail that disappears, this seemed way more appealing but a battle as no foot path just fresh deep snow. I decided this would be a good time to take a break, fuel up & come to a decision. I saw two tents about 100m ahead on a little flat part of land, so I figured I would just go wander over hopefully chat with the people occupying the tents & see what their take is on the trail & conditions, maybe they had summited the previous day.
Two girls, two guys looked like they were just waking up, roughly around 8am so still fairly early but not too early for the mountain lifestyle. I got chatting with a guy named Carl who had long hair, of native indian descent & just full of awesome vibes he was like “Yeah dude, the summit is completely blocked from the heavy snowfall, a lot of people have had to turn back but the best bet is to take the route with no pathway & make your own.” I thought about it for a second then was like okay, I’m doing this, I’m just going to push on & get this completed, “I am determined.”  

Well I was in for a surprise, it was not easy at all, the path which had become no path was sitting at about 8000ft and I had to get to 11,503ft trekking through fresh snow which was up to my waist and even higher in certain parts. I am 6’2 so if you can imagine trying to trek through snow sitting at about 3-4ft while on a constant incline, not knowing the ground below you it can be super scary, super tough on the legs & the altitude can play games with you also. 
Bare this in mind ice is still melting from the trees & I’m hiking up a 45° incline in 3-4ft snow, a lot could go wrong but always got to be optimistic about the situation so I trooped on. Eventually after about 2 hours of slowly making my way up, I reach just over 10,000ft - the views are gorgeous. San Gorgonio is in my sight, I’m super pumped as I’m so close but this is when it becomes a disappointment. I go to make my way towards the summit, the snow that has been sitting at 4ft deep in parts is becoming deeper with the top layer in sections being frozen so you can gently walk along with your crampons, then as I’m feeling fairly confident walking along this ice sheet my foot falls in deep, I’m stuck, it’s a struggle to get out, I manage to get out safely - “Thank god.” 

I make the wise decision to turn back as this is when I feel things could go terribly wrong and the sun is beginning to set which means it’s going to get cold very fast.

I make the wise decision to turn back as this is when I feel things could go terribly wrong and the sun is beginning to set which means it’s going to get cold very fast. 

This for me was somewhat a disappointment but at the same time I achieved so much. I have never ever experienced conditions like this nor had an idea how my body would cope and being out there seeing it in person was beautiful. The best thing from this hike I gained was meeting Carl which takes me onto my next blog piece “HOT SPRINGS.”

 

Deep Creek Hot Springs - 21st January 2017.

Let’s get excited here, who doesn’t love some natural hot springs? “Well I DO!”

This was such a random thing for me to do, find & experience. I must thank my friend Carl who I met on my hiking trip while trying to summit San Gorgonio (my previous blog post). 
Our original plan was to summit San Jacinto, California 10,833ft (3,302m) to take some amazing shots & just get to the summit - “Little case of what me & my friends like to call summit fever.” Of all places for the weather to work against us it just so happened to be in Californiathe state full of sunshine. There was a storm passing through California so the trail & any other way of accessing this peak was closed off, deemed dangerous. Which was super sad, we both really wanted to hike this peak but l guess it just wasn’t meant to be. 

Not being able to summit I think was a blessing in disguise, well for me especially, Carl suggested that we go to this spot he knows - this magical place with natural hot springs, beautiful scenery & a place that people like to get naked. Let’s be serious here who doesn’t love good scenery, natural hot springs and seeing naked people run about. The idea became a fast plan!
Since this storm was covering most of California we were pretty set on it being a miserable day, rain, overcast, cold and pretty much a lot like Scottish weather, which didn’t phase me in the slightest. I was still eager to jump into some hot springs.As we made our way bright & early towards the Northern Mojave Desert, a section of the San Bernardino National Forest we finally arrived at our destination with gorgeous views of Round Mountain 5,261ft with a short 3 mile trek down into the valley of San Bernardino Forest.  

“My God,” I was shocked! The heavens opened up, the sun was shining, the sky was clear and it ended up being a peach of a day. Carl & myself just looked at each other, happy as could be then Carl said “I told you this was a magical place, wait until you see the hot springs.”

Finally we made it to the crossing point, we had one thing to do in order for us to reach the hot springs which was to cross Deep Creek River, normally this river is about 1-2feet. Since there had been storms in Southern California the river was very high at about 5ft with ice still flowing across, very very cold & the thoughts of trying to get across with all of our camera gear and dry clothes was going to be a tough challenge. It took us a good amount of time to build up the confidence for us to cross, Carl ended up leaving unwanted gear that he didn’t need so he could just swim across, battling the cold & on the other hand I was determined to get across with all my gear so we could snap some shots. I backtracked my way down Deep Creek finding a cross point, eventually I found one which seemed to look like the right place to do it but to be perfectly honest the river was flowing fast in these parts. I was cautious of the water pulling me in along with all my expensive gear. 

The good news, I made it across safe then right into the hot springs, no messing about. The day consisted of interesting chats, many nudists roaming about, chatting more and just enjoying a really great little community within itself surrounded by nothing but good vibes. After our day at Deep Creep hot springs I am proud to say that I fully understand & respect why Carl calls this a magical place. 
We got a ton of photos snapped by my buddy Carl (which we will be uploading into a photoset shortly). He is a true gent & I look forward to seeing him when he comes to Scotland in August. I must please ask you that if you do decide to ever visit Deep Creek hot springs, please respect this area, keep it clean so people can forever enjoy natures beauty at it’s best.

We will be uploading photosets shortly with more photos from these trips! 

Hot Springs photography by Carl @phosphene_visuals

MR.WORLD 2016.

My Mr.World experience.

My Mr.World experience was something l never ever imagined it to be. I find it all still very funny to this day that l am the official Mr.Scotland 2016!

“Who would have thought?” Definitely not me!

My initial thoughts were the competition was going to be men taking part in a national beauty pageant showing off, filled with egotistical materialistic minded men who only cared about themselves.  But l was completely proven wrong in that retrospect feeling terribly guilty for even having those thoughts.
Considering l do modelling, which does involve looking pretty shall we say, l am quite the outdoorsman who likes to get his hands dirty up in the mountains exploring being a proper lads lad from time to time while hitting the gym, meditating, yoga, aspiring mountaineer, being a professional ice hockey player for seven years & overall being as active as possible. I was putting myself into something where l was expected to be a clean cut, well trimmed - while trying to constantly look good maintaining an appearance of a respectable gentlemen while being a good soul (which is something l practice everyday especially the good soul bit).
For anyone that reads this l'm sure they can probably relate in someway as l know there is many men who have thought of beauty pageants but think its just more so a girly thing to do.  But l can assure you from what l experienced during my time at Mr.World being around all of these other men representing there country l was blown away.  I not only learned more about myself but how genuine & honest the people around me were.  It was a breath of fresh air especially coming from a professional sports background where the atmosphere can be amazing but also extremely toxic in many ways.

I had recently gotten back from hiking base camp Everest & had been laying low for about two weeks until l got the call from my modelling agency asking if l would be interested in being Mr.Scotland, of course l wasn’t going to put this opportunity down, it was another adventure into an unknown world which l am forever chasing.
I went through a series of meetings, which involved Miss.Scotland 2015 Mhairi Ferguson & Janis Sue Smith Managing director for Miss.Scotland/Mr.Scotland asking me questions, getting to know more about me, my future ambitions, what to expect if l am to become the next Mr.Scotland. 

It had been a process over a few weeks chatting with Mhairi & Janis, then about 2 weeks later l got the call confirming l was the next Mr.Scotland.  I was overwhelmed, really cool feeling to get that call & finding out that a week later l would be leaving for South Port, England where the Mr.World contest would take place competing along side 48 other contestants representing there country for the chance in becoming Mr.World 2016, getting to travel the world, helping out charities, sharing good vibes & making an impact.  I was pretty gutted it was in South Port as l was really hoping it was going to be in a more exotic country but hey ho it didn’t make the experience any less awesome, especially being blessed with beautiful hot weather during the whole two weeks.

It was all quite surreal thinking that l was Mr.Scotland 2016, heading to South Port with no idea what to expect.  It all started in Manchester, where we stayed for two days while we waited for everyone to arrive from their countries.  After the two days when everyone had arrived we then got a bus from Manchester to South Port, then the competition would be full steam ahead.

At the end of the two weeks we would record the Mr.World show in front of a live audience that would be shown worldwide.  In the show it would show the five challenges we all went through during the two weeks while the judges watched & scored us.  The challenge events were Extreme challenge, testing us on our strength, endurance & determination.  Sport challenge testing us on skill, discipline & athleticism. Talent & creativity challenge testing us on finesse, technique & dedication. Fashion & style challenge.  Multimedia challenge testing us on charisma, presentation & interactivity & last challenge was the Cooking challenge.

Bare this in mind this was only half of the competition, we had to keep our moral up, working in 4 groups of colored teams blue, yellow, red & green showing how we interact together given certain tasks.  One of the tasks was to create a fitness video while using nothing but our own phones, which would show some sort of fitness routine, we decided to go for dancing while having a good time, check the link for my teams video HERE! 

Everyday we would be up at 7am, breakfast, then onto the next challenge, if it wasnt a challenge we would be doing, it would be dance rehearsals for at least 5hrs a day.  If you can imagine or even know me, l am not exactly the best dancer so it was super difficult trying to learn a routine but with the help of the other guys & dance teachers we nailed it, but most importantly had a blast doing it with many shared laughs.

The overall experience for me during Mr. World was remarkable, finishing 6th place overall was a great achievement but for me just being there was what really mattered.  All of these men l had only known for 2 weeks, the bond, the connection, the way they would encourage you when your energy levels were low was inspiring which really touched part of my soul.  I can proudly & happily say l have made brothers throughout the world that l will never ever forget.

I encourage any man or young boy who has a goal of competing in Mr.World to go for it. The chance of getting to be in a very open encouraging environment around nothing but positive people who are forever trying to make you better than what you think you are capable of is something that we should all have an ambition for.  It’s a rarity, we need these groups of people in order for us to realise how special human beings are & what difference we can make in each others lives.

Check out the whole Mr.World show so you can see who won which competitions, HERE!

TISO MICRO NAVIGATION.

TISO MICRO NAVIGATION COURSE. 

For me navigation is the most important knowledge to have when being outdoors, always important knowing exactly where you are, how to get to where you want to be and how long it will take to get there. It also helps give you the extra confidence if you’re ever lost. 
I wanted to do the navigational skills course because it is something I am not super confident with, especially since I’m focusing on becoming a Mountaineer.  I decided that taking the Tiso Micro Navigational Course would be a great start, especially as Tiso are one of my main sponsors and I was curious to see what they had to offer. The courses are run for Tiso by the staff at Climb MTS (link to their site at the bottom of this blog).

The course all started last Friday at 7pm with the introduction from Deputy Team Leader Paul Russell, head of the Scottish Mountain Rescue Tayside. The group consisted of 6 people including myself.  I was a tad nervous going into this thinking I would have zero knowledge & be totally out of the loop. Paul made it super easy and we went over everything that we would be doing the next day out on the hills. 

After having an hour long informative introduction we called it a night & organised to meet at Alva Glen at 9.30 the next day. (Alva Glen is a beautiful gorge situated above the village of Alva at the foot of the Ochil Hills, I highly recommend this hike for anyone that loves a fairly easy walk with stunning views). 

We arrived at Alva Glen carpark and started off focusing on our pacing and working out how many paces it would take to do 100 metres. After figuring out my pacing it was then time to read the map, look for any details that would determine where I am on the map and then put my pacing skills into action. Finally after getting familiar with my pacing, time & distance it was time to make sure I could tell which way to go on my compass. I had an idea of how to read a compass but it was great learning the different tricks Paul has learned from his years of experience and then getting to put them to the test. The whole day was great, Paul was super approachable even with the silliest of questions. After a fantastic day in Alva Glen I can proudly say I am much more confident with navigation & it was a privilege learning from Paul and I look forward to working with him in the future on the mountains. 

Check out all the TISO courses - HERE.

Check out the people behind the TISO courses at the CLIMBMTS website - HERE.

Tayside Mountain Rescue website - HERE

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EVEREST JOURNAL // PART 3.

EVEREST JOURNAL // PART 3.

16th May - Acclimatization & Rest day Dingbouche. 

One of those nights again that l didn’t want to leave my warm sleeping bag, l held on so long but l just couldn’t hold on any longer.. l finally gave in.  One of the smartest/dumbest moves l have made this trip.  As soon as l stepped out the tent it was as if l had just opened a door then walked right into an open galaxy, the night’s sky was breathtaking, l could see every single star it was stunning. I was blown away that much that l ended up staying outside for a few hours under the night’s sky taking in all the beautiful scenery, it was so breathtaking I didn’t notice the cold at all.  Then when l decided to get back in my tent l was so cold that l could not warm up in the slightest, which ended up being the coldest & toughest night yet. Thank god it was our rest day the next day in Dingbouche as l felt incredibly tired.

I was counting down the minutes until the sun started peaking in the Chukhung Valley so l could get up, enjoy some tea & a nice hearty breakfast. After breakfast Randeep said we will do an acclimatisation trek today to get our bodies ready for our trek tomorrow to Lobuche 4,930m.  Back to the tent l go, hiking gear on & my Arcteryx Bora 2 mid leather GTX boots (Product Code: TISO-ARCT-1130165) which l have grown to love, these boots are the best l have ever had during my hiking days: extremely breathable; lightweight; great fit with zero blisters but the best part is the Gore-Tex insulated mid liner that can be removed & dries out extremely fast. We climbed 300 metres up one of the big hills just behind us. The acclimatisation trek was great, myself & a few others made it up to about 500m, we had sun the whole way with a nice breeze & were blessed with the presence of a Golden Eagle flying above us. 

17th May - Hike to Lobuche. 

Todays trek to Loboche was difficult, the altitude was playing at it again.  The walk was beautiful with views of Mount Pumori 7,161m, Lingtren 6,749m & Mount Changtse 7,543 which is in Tibet. This part of the trek towards Lobuche was when I seen the most Yaks carrying supplies to & from Base Camp. Watching these animals carry huge loads is impressive but not as impressive when they are on certain parts of the trail that are extremely narrow, dangerous, steep & filled with loose rock. The whole time l have been on this trail l’m thinking how on earth do these animals manage it, but l suppose if there’s a will there’s a way plus the farmer is mustering them, constantly whipping them with a twig keeping them in check. 

One of the coolest parts of this trail & what l have noticed throughout the camp sites is that there is normally a good group of dogs who accommodate small villages or switch between a few. These dogs seem like wise people, whenever l was climbing a big hill, going for a walk or even a long trek to another local village there would always be these dogs within a close distance keeping us company. The animals on this adventure l have encountered all have a certain peaceful vibe they give off. I am used to coming from western society where animals are intimidated much easier so for me being around these peaceful animals was super pleasant especially the dogs. 

We arrive at a small town called Thukla gaining about 300m where we sit down for half an hour before our tough ascend to Lobuche. I know l have said it before but this is the toughest & most exhausting part of the trek yet especially with it being the 7th day, not having the best sleep, eating certain foods my body is not used to, trying to get as much energy as l can & having the altitude constantly trying to beat me. 

“No excuses, l am here to get to Base Camp Everest, l will not be beaten.” 

While l’m having this mental/physical battle with myself l can see that l’m almost over this steep hill. l finally make it up this hill filled with exhaustion but relief as l felt personally that this steep incline of about 400 metres was a true test of my will power.  After making it to the top we reach a memorial ground of prayer flags & monuments dedicated to climbers who have lost their lives due to summit attempts in this majestic mountain range. 
I have a moment of silence & place a rock on one of the many Cairns at the memorial ground in respect to all the climbers who have been successful & unsuccessful.

After a short stay at the memorial ground it’s time to bash on, we continue getting amazing views of the neighbouring mountains. After about 4 hours we finally make it into Lobuche, we have some lunch then a small 30-minute acclimatisation hike. The weather is much colder at this height 4,930m, so l put on my North Face Canyonland jacket (Product Code: TISO-TNFX-1128280) that has been great for me so far keeping me not too hot & not too cold, protected from slight wind breeze plus the great hood prevents cold air going down the back of my neck. l also put on my North Face Etip gloves (Product Code: TISO-TNFX-1082818) which have been amazing for me keeping my fingers warm but also allowing extra comfort when wearing them rather than restricted movement you get sometimes wearing gloves. 
While acclimatising on the hill l quickly head back down towards the lodge we will be staying in for the night trying to warm up anyway l can making sure l get my body prepared hopefully for a great nights sleep. 

18th May - Hike to Gorakshep.

Waking up, looking out the window and seeing nothing but white was almost like waking up on Christmas Day when you’re a child, seeing what Santa has brought. I’m excited because it’s the first time it has properly snowed plus we are going to Base Camp today & feeling even better that l managed to get a great sleep considering it was colder in the lodge than it has been camping the previous nights. The lodges up at this height are not exactly your 5 star accommodations, very cold, food is not always the best & the worst thing is you can’t ever expect to enjoy a warm shower or even a clean toilet. There are no showers & the toilets smell worse than sewage. Let’s get back to the positives - wakey wakey 5.15am, breakfast 6am, and then start our trek towards Gorakshep 5,164m (Gorakshep was originally Everest Base Camp, that was used by the Swiss Mountain Climbers to attempt Everest in 1952).  

I quickly eat breakfast with urgency so we can get to the trekking, l’m dying to get moving. Today is going to be tough, going from Lobuche 4,930m to Base Camp 5,360m will be a real challenge with the altitude.  The trek starts off with a gradual incline as my footprints make a crisp noise walking on the freshly laid snow, the air is cold so l have to make sure & keep my mouth covered. I’m about 30 minutes in, my legs are feeling real heavy, minor headache & a shortness of breath. The cold air and the altitude isn’t helping in the slightest. From my previous days trekking & feeling the altitude l decide to slow my pace down, l want to make sure l’m in fit shape for when we reach the other lodge we will be staying in at Gorakshep for the night, plus l want to be super healthy for when we make it to Base Camp today. It has taken me about 2 hours to reach Gorakshep Himalayan Lodge & Restaurant. I’m feeling somewhat fresh & happy with myself for slowing down my pace considering we have at least another 2 hours to go until we reach Base Camp. 

While at the lodge, l get all my gear off & stored away in our room then enjoy a nice warm lunch of vegetable soup with some bread. After about an hour of relaxing & warming up it’s time to depart to Base Camp, the time is 10.30am with us expected to reach base camp around 12/1pm.  The sun had come out but the weather was still very cold, l put on my North Face Point Five Red jacket (http://www.tiso.com/mens/jackets-coats/waterproof-jackets/) I love this jacket not only because it’s red, it’s super reliable against protecting you from wind & any water trying to sneak in also the pit vents are great for on the move when you don’t want to change the jacket but get good airflow so you don’t get too sweaty. 

The walk is gorgeous, l legit feel like l’m walking into an image from a postcard - the scenery is breathtaking. The Gradient is a steady incline with the majority of the path being flat & rocky. Whilst taking my time catching my breath I’m also taking some photos hoping that l can capture all. The beauty around me is extremely hard to capture, experiencing everything for what it is now is something that is very difficult to photograph on camera. I do my best & decide to trek on, the feelings as l’m getting closer & closer to Base Camp does not seem real. I can see the camp in the distance giving me the chills, it’s as if l’m waking up from an awesome dream thinking - “Is this real? Am l actually about to make Base Camp Everest in the next 20minutes?’ It’s all very surreal. 

I’m trying not to push myself so hard because that one little thing called altitude is creeping in on me, l can feel my body fighting it but not winning.

“WHOOOOOHOOOOO!”
Tristan Harper 1, Base Camp Everest 0, l have made it. High fives, hugs, even hugging strangers that have made it to Base Camp. The feeling was real, l can officially now say l have made it to Base Camp Everest.  

Our group got really lucky, one of the sherpa’s in our group has a cousin who is working at one of the tents for a Belgian team who are currently at Camp 4 expecting to summit Everest, they were meant to summit today but due to weather not being perfect they had to wait it out. We got the privilege of hanging out in their tent while enjoying some tea & biscuits, learning as much as l could about what it was like living at base camp. (Teams tend to stay at Base Camp for about a week, then they will spend three to four weeks going up & down the mountain to establish camps with food, fuel & oxygen. The summit push can take up to about a week from camp 4 depending on the weather, it can take a total of six to nine weeks depending on the situation). 
After enjoying our time at the Belgian’s tent we then started our walk back to Gorakshep where l can rest up, getting ready for our last big trek of my expedition to hike Kala Pattar 5,365m.

19th May - Kala Pattar Hike 5,365m.

During my whole expedition & after completing Base Camp Everest l was most worried about doing this hike to Kala Pattar purely because of how high l will be & having already felt the effects of the altitude. We were up super early today so we could catch the sunrise while ascending Kala Pattar which was expected to take 2/3 hours straight up with zero downhill or flat ground. The trek from Gorakshep 5,180m to Kala Pattar is only 5,365m, it’s nothing in the grand scheme of things which l’m constantly reminding myself of but l just can’t seem to shake off how much the altitude is affecting my body & how incredibly weak l feel.  The best thing l got going for me is my mental attitude, keep reminding myself that l can do this but equally know this hike is going to be a killer. 
The exhaustion after all these days of trekking is catching up but as l’m just getting to the top of Kala Pattar feeling the incredible burning of my legs & having to catch my breath every 5 minutes.

“Finally!” 

l make it with the incredible rewarding feeling of euphoria wash over my whole body. The views are incredible especially as the sun is rising over Everest. Everest is so large that it is blocking out parts of the sun causing almost stream effects of light throughout the sky.  
I find sometime for myself sitting on a rock taking in all the beautiful sights before heading back down to Gorakshep where we enjoyed some delicious porridge before we start our final descent towards Lukla over the next 5 days which will mean an end to our trip. 

Personal Notes - 

This experience for me has changed my life especially how it’s beginning to shape, certain pathways l have always been ambitious about. This trip has been extremely positive for me not only being around the beautiful people of Nepal but on a personal level, l have a better understanding of who l am & where l want to go in life.  

l have always had a passion for being outdoors and this is where l feel most energised. l now have further determination to summit Everest one day but in the meantime l will be eyeing up smaller peaks so l can gain more skills, knowledge and eventually become a professional Mountaineer. Thank you everyone for reading my blog on my adventures to Base Camp Everest. l could not have done it without the support from my family, friends, Tiso, The North Face & with the mental/physical determination that being a professional Ice Hockey player has taught me over the years.

Sending you much love & good vibes.
Tristan

EVEREST JOURNAL // PART 2.

EVEREST JOURNAL // PART 2.

12th May - Namche Bazaar Camp.

Later wake up call today, 6.30am rather than 6am due to one of our main Sherpa’s having to get rushed back to Lukla the previous night. I talked to Randeep asking him what had happened & he said the lead Sherpa had eaten at a new place along the trail in one of the small towns we had passed that he had not eaten at before. He began to feel very odd, showing signs of Black Magic being possessed. In Nepalese culture it is believed that demons or witches are the cause of illness. Randeep told me that it is common for a shadow of a strange being to all of a sudden appear around you then it slowly starts to get smaller, making you feel like its absorbing all of you, then your body starts to do strange things: rashes on skin; memory loss; failure to walk; loss of vision; constant shivers and muttering strange words. These are just a few of the main signs. 
Being from a western society, having a total different upbringing into the world understanding different ways & thinking this could just be our Sherpa getting extremely sick, this can be extremely hard to believe but for me it’s nothing short of the truth as anything is possible. Randeep and every person involved on our expedition was not taking this lightly - it was being treated very seriously.  
After having my chat with Randeep sipping on some black tea and learning something unexpected it was time to get packed up, washy washy, breakfast then depart for Namche Camp 3,445m. I knew today was going to be tough, going from 2,850m to 3,445m is a big climb gaining 595m with the toughest ascend yet. Hiking time expected 4/5hrs.  Myself, Chris, Mark & Ed were already getting some of the Guides/Sherpa’s chatting how fast we walked which was a pretty cool compliment coming from them. 

The start of the walk to Namche Bazaar takes you into Sagarmartha National Park where we walked alongside the Dudh Kosi River crossing many suspension bridges until we reached the highest suspension bridge yet sitting at about 700 feet off the ground & roughly 200 feet long (the same bridge that is shown in the Hollywood movie Everest). I was super excited about crossing this particular bridge purely because it’s the highest suspension bridge I have been on & it’s a challenge within itself crossing something like this if you’re afraid of heights. We cross the bridge very slowly sharing it with animals also crossing whilst taking their time. Once we reach the other side of the bride we then start our tough ascend of 2,400ft to Namche with no downhill breaks.

The effects of altitude are kicking in & I can really feel the lack of oxygen in the air, this is by far is the most challenging it has been yet for me, the legs are burning, I’m sweating buckets but I push onwards. Ed takes the lead with a steady pace up hill. Ed is 6ft 6" so you can imagine a man of his stature with a steady pace has some pretty big steps, I manage to keep up with the big man. About 2hrs of trekking we make it to a checkpoint just before Namche Bazaar where they check your hiking permit making sure everything is valid. 

Okay, here is where it all goes wrong, for me anyways! Throughout the hike there is small local shops with a small selection that you can buy a chocolate bar or beverage from. I have a sugar rush after that intense hike, Snickers is what I’m craving so I go to pull out my wallet then guess what, no wallet. My heart drops, I’m thinking where could it be, l remember I packed it at the last camp in my tent for safe keeping, obviously l packed it so safely I totally forget what l did with it when repacking.  

I tell Randeep, he says “l will get a Sherpa to go back and get it for you.”
I said “No way am I letting someone else solve my stupid mistake.” 

The only option here is for me to go back to Monjo Camp hoping it’s still where I think it is.  I’m not even thinking, I just go! Running as fast as I can, dodging, jumping over rocks making sure I don’t fall. It takes me about 40 minutes to get back down to Monjo Camp, I go directly to where I remember hiding my wallet. Thank the lord, it’s there, I’m feeling so relieved then reality kicks in, I have got to go all the way back up that hill from where l came from.  

This is going to be a battle, as I start making my way along the river then across the bridge again surprisingly I’m actually feeling not so bad then.. then I start the incline after the bridge, “YUP, lm dying!” I hit a brick wall, it becomes a mental battle then the fatigue really starts to kick in, there is no way I am giving up.  I slowly make my way up the hill stopping for a few minutes break so I can catch my breath, passing people l have already passed on the way back down who are probably thinking this guy is a nut job or he is training for some marathon. Only if they knew it was to get my wallet I stupidly left at the previous camp. After going up the mountain which took 2 hours, then back down which took 40mins, then back up which surprisingly took about an hour and a half due to less animal passings. I finally make it back to the permit check station, l ask the guy at the station how far is Namche Camp, he says “20 minutes walk,” now I’m really feeling like an idiot, I can’t believe I was that close to camp. I am knackered walking into Namche Bazaar, the weather has quickly changed from sunny to overcast so I unpack my compact The North Face Thermoball Hoodie which has been unreal for me this whole trip giving me a quick burst of warmth & shielding me from the light rain (Product Code: TISO-TNFX-1128264 - www.tiso.com).

I finally make it into camp at Namche Bazaar where Randeep has some fresh hot tea & garlic cream soup waiting for me. What a legend! Today will be an extremely chilled day, exploring the beautiful town of Namche after almost defeating myself with exhaustion. 

13th May - Acclimatisation, visit to Khumjung school & Rest Day, Namche Bazaar. 

After a somewhat interesting nights sleep getting constantly woken up from the ringing of the bells every hour from Namche Monastery & dogs barking in the night, it was 6.30am which means wakey wakey, some black tea, breakfast at 7am then a small hike to Khumjung School so we can acclimatise some more whilst getting to experience some of the local culture. 
Khumjung School was built in 1961 by Sir Edmund Hillary’s Himalayan Trust (Nonprofit humanitarian organisation). The school began with two classrooms but now caters for pre-school, primary & secondary sections with over 350 students from all surrounding villages. 

The small easy trek as Randeep put it to Khumjung school at 3,970m was not exactly the easiest. I could already feel the effects of the altitude from just being in Namche 3,345m. While I’m making my way up towards the school I’m finding it very amusing as it’s the same time the children are heading to school & this is just a walk in the park for them, they’re walking side by side with me messing about as kids do having a laugh & here’s me huffing/puffing because my body is just not used to the lack of oxygen in the air. For children in the Himalayas, walking up to 2 hours to attend school ascending a few hundred meters or more on a daily basis is just part of their culture. This probably makes them some of the healthiest children in the world. 

Finally after about an hour of walking we make it to Khumjung School just in time for assembly. Just before assembly started I managed to pull two girls aside who could talk a little English. With the permission of their principle I asked them a few questions in support of (http://www.glasgowgirlsclub.org - raising awareness for 400 Million Girls). 

After a lovely chat with the girls we then enjoyed the wonderful Khumjung assembly experience seeing children from 5 to 16 years old do their morning routine - dancing together & singing the Nepalese national anthem.

After our visit, we then headed back to Namche. Chris & I wanted to scope out more of this amazing town. Namche is a hot spot in the Himalayas especially for trekkers in the Khumba region & for altitude acclimatisation, it’s the major stop off point for trekkers & climbers heading to base camp or climbers who need a break from the high altitude to come and get some good rest.

I was personally interested in all the yaks here especially since the locals use them as there daily source for cheese & butter, it was only a matter of time before I tried this. I found myself in a café with Chris ordering a yak cheese pizza, the pizza was extremely tasty almost like a cross between goat & cow cheese. After a great afternoon floating around Namche chatting with a few different trekkers either ascending or on their way back down hearing all sorts of interesting stories it was time to head back to camp for dinner. Our Sherpa’s really out did themselves tonight we had some dum aloo (potato curry) veg momos (vegetarian dumplings) sel rhot (cross between a doughnut & bagel) & some rice pudding for dessert.  After a delicious meal & many laughs with Chris, Mark & Ed teasing me about how I managed to forget my wallet it was time to head to bed feeling great after a good meal & a belly full of laughs.

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14th May - Hike to Deboche. 

Wakey wakey, black tea, washy washy, breakfast then 8am depart for Debouche 3,770m. I was super excited for this walk as I knew I was not going to feel the altitude as much since we trekked higher to Khumjung the previous day. This section of the walk was one of my favourites, we were so lucky with the weather, the skies were clear & the sun was shining giving us full view of the mountains. 

On our descent to the Imjatse River at Phungitenga 3,250m, we finally were able to catch a glimpse of Mount Everest. Sherpa’s from Nepal call Mount Everest “Sagarmartha,” which means Mother of the Universe; Sherpa’s from Tibet call Mount Everest “Qomolangma” or “Chomolungma” that means Goddess Mother of the World.  Even just from what they call Mount Everest alone you can sense how much respect they have for the mountain.

Standing there looking at Everest scratching my head thinking this is not real, the feeling of chills running through my body is something I will never ever forget at that exact moment, if you can imagine seeing a colony of ants while having that feeling of power over them this is exactly what I felt like, but I was the ant. The beauty & stillness of a mountain is truly magnificent. A mountain that has claimed so many lives but more so given people the power of achievement is something l never truly understood until that exact moment. 
The views of other mountains were equally just as intimidating as Everest; I could see Ama Dablam 6,812m & Lhotse 8,516m. It is said that Ama Dablam is a more challenging climb than Everest & by the looks of it I certainly couldn’t disagree. 

This has been my favourite walk so far since arriving in the Himalayas and my day hasn’t even ended yet.  Slowly making our way down on the trail through shaded forest area consisting of silver fir blue pine trees, rhododendron, magnolia plants & birch trees until we finally arrive in Phungitenga, a small settlement of a few local teahouses.  Our guide Randeep has told us to stop at the first teahouse we see for afternoon lunch. After a wonderful homemade local lunch it was time for our ascend which took just under an hour of straight incline until we reached the town of Tengbouche 3,386m. The first thing I notice is Tengboche Monastery which is the largest Gompa in the Khumbu region & the 2nd largest in Nepal. The monastery is estimated to home around 60 monks.  We made it in time to experience a public prayer session, I wish I had pictures of this but it was forbidden & something l wanted to respect. We were guided into the monastery taking off any outside footwear we had on, and then told to sit down & wait until the monks came to pray. The monks started chanting, the room was electric it was as if I could feel the energy & calmness within, l had never ever experienced something of this nature before nor did I think it would have the tremendous impact on me that it did. Coming out of that short 30-minute public prayer session l felt relaxed, energised, happy & with a better understanding of why these monks practice what they do. Something very special happened in there & what they did inspired me. 

Taking my time leaving the monastery we start our descent for Debouche where we will be camping for the night, luck struck us again as we headed to camp and we were gifted with great views of Mount Nuptse 7,861m which ended our day perfectly.

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15th May - Hike to Dingbouche. 

Very cold night in Debouche 3,770m, I luckily managed to have my best sleep yet. I was worried about not getting much sleep due to the cold. I had a few moments during the night when I was super snuggled up extra cozy in my sleeping bag then needing a toilet break with the worry of not heating up again. After luckily having an incredible sleep then waking up feeling amazing with great news from Randeep that our Sherpa’s had prepared some pancakes this morning, I was over the moon, my excitement for having pancakes this morning was hilarious. I was so ready to devour these delicious pancakes with a nice warm black tea. 

The weather this morning was cloudy, raining slightly with a damp cold hovering around us. This was the first day I had decided to start trekking without wearing my shorts & just a t-shirt so I made sure I was going to keep extra warm as I believe being dry & comfortable is the most important thing when your hiking, climbing or adventuring. 
The first thing I made sure to wear was my (North Face Morph Down Hooded Jacket). This jacket brings instant heat & what really impressed me was how light it is, as it wasn’t pouring down this was my go to. 

After getting all dressed making sure my core temp was warm we then started out at 8am towards Dingbouche 4,412m.  Our trek time is estimated around 5-6hours. It’s about 30 minutes into the trek then all of a sudden the clouds break the sun is beaming down, it’s roasting so I have to do a mid trek change of clothes, shorts on, jacket packed, sunscreen on then away we go again.  

The walk is going well, as I pass to the left side of the long prayer Mani wall (Mani walls are stones resembling tablets mostly with inscription “Om Mani Padme Hum” which loosely translates to “Hail to the jewel in the lotus.” These walls should be passed from the left side, the clockwise direction in which the earth & universe revolve, according to Buddhists). While passing all these beautiful Mani walls & Mani Stones ascending 642m from Deboche I am feeling really good. I thought I would maybe start to feel some more effects of the altitude kicking in but so far just minor headaches.  We are about an hour and a half into our walk when we reach Shomare 4,050m a small settlement with great views of Ama Dablum where we sit down for a few hours enjoying a nice lunch with a view.  

Time to get moving again, onwards to Dingbouche. The trek so far from Deboche has been fairly easy with no problems. Right as I’m thinking this, this is when altitude starts to effect me. I’m at about 4,100m & I can feel my vision starting to go blurry as if I have just gotten a mega head rush which wasn’t going away. I was determined to push myself past this but I had to take a 10-minute break & sit down sipping on my water slowly catching my breath.
After slowly getting myself feeling strong with my headache lurking, it was time to push on. I’m walking with a steady pace feeling much better taking in all the sights trying to forget about my headache hoping I don’t go all blurry again. The views constantly impress me, the views of the small village of Pangbouche 3,985m are incredible. Seeing all these remote villages surviving & thriving with existence continually amazes me.

I’m about 40 minutes from Shomare feeling better again, already having had my incident with blurry vision, headache & having to rest I start to feel the altitude again. This altitude is really kicking my ass or at least trying to test me. I make sure that I keep a positive mental attitude with a steady pace focusing on my breathing & staying well hydrated. Finally after a difficult challenging walk I am able to see Dingbouche, I can see exactly where we will be camping for tonight so I up my pace, probably not the smartest thing to do considering I was feeling the altitude majorly.
I make it to camp, my head is pounding, l have a million mini people in my head jumping around, it is not the best feeling, at this point I just want to sit down and relax. Thirty minutes go by & I am feeling much better, I decide to go chat to our cook.

She is a lovely lady who has grown up in Dingbouche with a little baby boy just under 1 year old, her husband is currently at Everest at Camp 2 (There are 4 camps above Base Camp, Camp. Each camp gets higher, more chance of danger & each climber has to take their time going up to the next camp then back down so they can acclimatise, total time to summit Everest is around 2 months on average). He is heading for Camp 3 today then aiming for the summit in the next few days. 
The obvious question here from me is “has he summited before?” She says 5 times already. My jaw drops, that is insane, what a stud. I also ask her if she is worried, she laughs holding her baby boy saying of course but we must make money.  

From what I have learned so far about the Sherpa’s & their families is that this is a very high demanding job with tremendous competition among all the Sherpa culture. Being one of the Sherpa’s who has the opportunity of helping mountaineers climb Everest while risking their own life is in my opinion one of the toughest/most dangerous jobs in the world considering they will only make approximately between $3,000 - $5,000 on one Everest expedition. The Sherpa families don’t have much choice because doing one trip on Everest will support them for a year of living. The majority of these families in the Himalayas, especially the parents/grandparents, know nothing outside of farming & mountains, as they had no access to schooling like their children now have access to, due to the help of the Himalayan Trust (www.himalayantrust.co.uk).

Just another day in the Himalayas for a hardworking Nepalese family!

Photoset 2 coming soon!

EVEREST JOURNAL // PART 1.

EVEREST JOURNAL // PART 1. 

In this blog piece l will be chatting about my expedition to Base Camp Everest along with my personal experience & reviewing all the wonderful gear that has been supplied by The North Face In collaboration with TISO (Scotland’s oldest & leading outdoor specialist) my main sponsor & supporter.

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7th May 2016 - Scotland – Nepal.

The trip started a few days before my actual departure date 7th May.  Myself, blog partner Jawn & Chris decided to make a quick trip up North towards the Isle of Skye so we could do some last minute checks of our gear from Tiso (www.tiso.com) that we would be taking to Nepal. It was a windy, rainy but very successful trip in Skye which was a good get away before leaving for Nepal. Jawn unfortunately had to depart after Skye as he wasn’t going to make this trip due to the awesome recent birth of his baby boy Oliver.

It was the day before our flight, nerves were kicking in as it was all starting to catch up with me that l was about to fly to Nepal then hike to Base Camp Everest.  The realisation of flying pretty much half way around the world to do some hiking in one of the most organic, purest, beautiful landscapes on the planet really was making me feel on edge in the most positive way possible.  This moment for me was going to change the way l live my life in the future, l knew this was going to bring me the goals l ultimately want, l was having incredible chills about all of what was going to happen, l hadn’t even hit the mountains & l was getting chills of euphoria. 

“This feels right, this is right, it will be right.”

After packing my bag for the 3rd time constantly worried that l was going to forget something, l finally calmed myself down decided to hit the hay for a good nights sleep before the long travelling commenced. 

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8th May - Arriving in Kathmandu.

Finally l made it to Nepal, now the fun could begin.  As l left Kathmandu airport the place was crazy, it was like everyone is constantly doing something to make a quick penny here or there, people are shouting “taxi, help with your bags, fresh fruit, taxi etc…” It’s never ending, everyone wants a peace of this fresh tourist meat. I wasn’t even in the markets yet.

Our guide Randeep meets myself & Chris at the airport along with a few others we will be hiking with.  We get all of our luggage loaded onto the roof rack of this 10 seated van, then we head to the hotel we will be staying at for the next two nights before our flight to Lukla, in the Himalayas.  As we are driving through the streets of Kathmandu its pandemonium, the place is a circus, there is stray dogs walking everywhere, cows & goats roaming the streets, people lying randomly on the street, food stalls on every corner, vans & buses jammed with so many people as if it’s like a match box, families of 4 riding on scooters together, electric wires hanging all over the place, definitely wouldn’t pass the electrical standards in the UK, there is just so much going on it’s hard to take in. 

I can instantly tell the poverty of the country and what damages the earthquake has done previously to the land, there is still many buildings that have been left unattended that collapsed.  Such a shame that this has happened to a beautiful country but at the same time you see so many happy faces regardless of how much they don’t have to their name.  

“What an inspiring buzz & I’m just getting to the hotel!”

As we arrive at the Radisson, lm ready to get things moving.  Chris & myself are feeling ecstatic with excitement, the travels have already done so much for us and we haven’t even hit the mountains yet.  As we enter the hotel they greet us with a nice freshly squeezed lychee juice, which was delicious, then Randeep announces we will have a group meeting in an hour to go over our itinerary in full detail along with any personal questions.  Instantly l head straight up to the hotel room, shower then get some comfortable clothing on so I’m not sweating constantly in this heat.  

The hour rolls by after exploring the hotel, we meet in the lobby then head to a separate building part of the Radisson where we have our meeting with any drink that we want complimentary of the hotel.  From the moment we landed, got to the hotel & have now got comfortable seating in this room where we are currently having this meeting, l have instantly clicked with two gents who will be trekking with us, Mark & Ed two Englishmen, which I can tell are going to make the trek that much more enjoyable with some great banter which l was definitely not wrong about.  

Of course myself, Chris, Ed & Mark say okay what’s the best local beer you have, the waiter & our guide recommend Everest Premium Lager.  Extremely happy with my choice as it was a great beer & just so happened to be named after the area we plan on hiking which all seemed relevant.  After our meeting and a few beers which ended up turning into probably one two many but a great first night in Kathmandu & bonding with our lead guide Randeep more, as he did seem a little shy at first. “Nothing a few of your finest Everest’s couldn’t fix.”

9th May - Being a tourist in Kathmandu.

Jetlag, hung-over, feeling very rough.

Probably wasn’t smart to booze hard the first night in Nepal especially being a lightweight.  Today was going to be a battle especially when we had a day of exploring Kathmandu that Randeep had organised for us.  Breakfast 8am, and then we start exploring the city at 9am.  Our first stop was Pashupatinath temple, l had zero idea of what l was about to encounter, the walk towards the temple was an experience within itself seeing monkeys just roam freely around the ground.  Being from Scotland its not something that happens regularly unless you go to the zoo everyday, as l got closer to the temple l could smell regular smoke then l started to smell a funny rotten smell as if something that had gone off was burning.  I continue walking throughout the temple grounds, our guide points out to us the burning of bodies for religious reasons, l’m in shock & thinking “WHAT, is this real, am l actually witnessing the burning of a human body?” So many questions ran through my head but it was true, the burning is completely acceptable & instead of the western way of cremating the bodies privately they do them openly.  This for me was something l never expected to witness in my lifetime.  l am forever grateful that l witnessed such a sacred religious way of being.  It’s truly an amazing feeling being able to be in an environment having an understanding of how much more people are open with there ways of life. 

After my eye opener of a morning at Pashupatinath Temple it was onto the next sacred place Boudhanath Stupa.  Boudhanath Stupa is the largest Stupa in Nepal and the holiest Tibetan Buddhist Temple outside Tibet, it is the centre of all Tibetan Culture in Kathmandu & extremely infinite in Buddhist symbolism.  This for me was a very calming experience you could sense the energy around the whole area, such beauty in the design of the Stupa.  

As l walked around the Stupa it was the first time l got to spin a prayer wheel, which is a small revolving cylinder inscribed with or containing prayers, which symbolises the repetition of prayers used by Tibetan Buddhists. There are hundreds of these prayer wheels on the great Himalayan trail, which you will see in my pictures.  

After seeing everything l could around the Stupa, we then ventured into a wonderful authentic Thanka Gallery where we learned how professional painters do these wonderful art pieces, how much time it takes & the meaning behind them. 

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10th May  - Ghat Camp (Flight from Kathmandu – Lukla).

Rise & Shine, 4am wake up call, breakfast, depart hotel 5am for 6.30am flight from Kathmandu Airport to Lukla Airport set in Khumba, Solukhumbu District, where we will start our first days trek completing part of our 62 Kilometers/38 miles towards Base Camp Everest.

The flight from Kathmandu to Lukla is only just a short 30/40minute flight but the fear is hovering above me as l am well aware how sketchy this airport is. Lukla is ranked in the top 10 most dangerous airports in the world with a 1,729-foot long runway and an elevation of 9,500 feet, bare in mind the shortest runway at London City Airport is 4,900 feet so you can really imagine how small the runway must be at Lukla. 

As l get on the plane with my big backpack I walk down the narrow isle, trying to make it to my seat at the front of the plane without knocking down every seat.  l may aswell be sitting in the cockpit with the pilots it’s that small.  We are up in the air only for a short time, the views are incredible as we dodge in & out between the Himalayan mountain range.  Finally we start descending, the energy is tense, nerves/excitement are pumping through my blood, l see Lukla Airport, l see the runway…

“YAY!” We landed! “BRAVO!” Everyone is cheering/clapping, such a perfect landing, smiles everywhere! 

Off the plane we get, we drop our luggage off at a lodge in Lukla as we have about an hour to explore the small town while our guide Randeep sorts our hiking permits out.  We were craving a coffee which lead us into a small local café that made us a great cup while we walked around the streets in this small town.  The energy here is real, people are all smiling, children are running up to us wanting to play, bare in mind its only 7.45am, already the town is very much awake which l quickly learned that all towns in the Himalayas start very early around 5am then everything winds down about 7/8pm. 

Our hour goes by very quickly so we head back to the lodge that we initially dropped our bags off where Randeep is waiting. Randeep tells us we have a small 2 hour trek to Ghat Camp which will be a slow & steady walk so we can find our bearings & most importantly let our bodies adjust to the altitude.   

The trek to Ghat Camp was mostly downhill, rocky terrain & surprisingly quite similar to Scottish terrain except the sun was shining. 

We get to Ghat camp around 12pm, the weather is lovely so myself & Chris go for a wander around the area, chatting with locals plus seeing Sherpa after Sherpa carrying crazy loads of materials from doors, glass panels, food, beer, really anything you can imagine that helps them live daily & provide trekkers with comfort.  If you’re not sure exactly what a Sherpa is (Sherpa is the name for someone who is a mountain guide or porter working in the Himalayans around Mount Everest from Nepal or Central Asia, they are naturally physically stronger to handle the extreme conditions in the Himalayans.  Especially the altitudes while carrying tremendous amounts of weight in comparison with the average human being that will produce a high red blood cell count at higher altitudes & Sherpa’s which produce less red blood cells giving them this advantage over us on average).  

After having a wander with Chris trying to take everything in on my first day, we decide to head back to Ghat Camp where we can chill, get a good nights rest for the next days trek to Monjo Camp.

11th May - Monjo Camp. 

After a restless night, not getting much sleep in Ghat Camp waking up continuously to go to the toilet. Probably wasn’t smart to drink a lot of water before l went to bed but l wanted to make sure my body was well hydrated so there is less chance of getting altitude sickness.

 (Altitude sickness is caused when ascending high altitude which is more likely to happen if you ascend too fast, normally at a gradual pace your body adapts but in some cases your body still struggles with problems such as Headaches, Nausea, Vomiting, dizziness, tiredness, loss of appetite, upset stomach, feeling unsteady & a short of breathe).   

From landing in Kathmandu 1,400m then making my way into the Himalayas where l will be climbing Everest Base Camp 5,360m & Kala Pattar 5,545m the chances of feeling altitude sickness are high as you can feel the sickness as low as 2,500m.  l really wanted to make sure l was doing everything l could to prevent this because it’s something that happens to even the fittest people.

Its about 5.30am, l’m fully awake & feeling very well hydrated, the birds are singing, cows are mooing, dogs are barking. l think it’s probably better l get up as our wakeup call is 6am.  As 6am rolls round, our Sherpa’s come round each tent serving us a nice warm cup of black tea.  Black tea is very common here throughout Nepal & something that l have grown fond of plus nothing is more enjoyable sipping on something warm while the sun starts to pop through the clouds and before our day of trekking in these gorgeous Himalayan mountains starts.

After enjoying my black tea, its time for “washy washy,” as the Sherpa’s & Randeep like to call it.  We are given a small metal bowl, about the same size as a dog’s drinking water bowl so we can wash ourselves.

(Nepalese cultures are very conservative in their attitudes with clothing which means men should always wear a shirt in public, long trousers & shorts in certain areas.  Woman are accepted to wear long skirts that go below the knees, a Sari & also shoulders, chest areas must be covered at all times). 

While washing myself this is constantly going through my head, l want to make sure l keep the respect within my group of people especially with the Sherpa’s, locals & my guide Randeep. Bare this in mind there is not much water & it’s not exactly the easiest trying to wash all your body while keeping somewhat hidden, a quick rinse of the face & body parts, just enough to feel fresh for our tasty breakfast of porridge & a hard boiled egg with more tea. 

After breakfast we then depart for our hike to MONJO CAMP 2,850m. The trek to Monjo Camp is expected to be about 3 or 4 hours at a slow steady pace.  Which seemed not bad at all especially with the weather being on our side.  l wanted to push myself going at a good steady pace so l could give myself a harder challenge.  Today felt like the first real day of trekking for me, l was extremely excited not knowing what the hiking trail had to offer, it was like l was a little kid turning a corner in a toy store discovering something new.  The terrain for the most part was rocky, dry with some muddy sections & endless amounts of animals transporting goods.

(Transporting with animals on this trail is a very ancient tradition; the trail is difficult to climb carrying heavy loads even though the Sherpa’s do an unbelievable job. It’s still a common practice using animals.  Animals that are common at the lower altitudes used for transporting are Horses, Mules, Donkeys, Gaur & Banteng.  Animals that are used at higher grounds normally around 5,000m plus are Yaks - they can deal with the higher altitude along with the coldness). 

After not getting knocked over by all the animals on the trail l finally made it to Monjo Camp feeling amazing & full of energy. Myself, Chris, Mark & Ed plus our guide set a good pace ahead of our group getting there super fast in just over 2 hours. I think we would of made it a little bit faster if it wasn’t for all the Donkeys.

It was about 10am, l was ready for more hiking today, l felt so good but Randeep kept saying “climb high sleep low,” but he did say we will wait until the rest of the group gets here, eat lunch then climb about 100 metres so we can acclimatise a little more. After lunch it was time to climb a little higher, we went up as a group about 100 metres.  l could slightly feel how the altitude was affecting my breathing, it was bearable so myself & Chris decided to go a little higher as we wanted to get to the top of this hill which was probably around another 100/150 metres.

I have been wearing my The North Face exploration shorts everyday for the hike so far which have been unbelievable for me especially when l have been sweating lots, they dry extremely fast, they are comfortable plus they allow a lot of movement.  Its great finding a pair of shorts that give me the freedom, because being an Ice Hockey player, we normally tend to find it difficult finding a pair of shorts that fit our legs & hockey bums after all the years of skating.  (The North Face men’s exploration shorts - buy now at www.tiso.com & www.thenorthface.co.uk).

Wonderful views from that short acclimatisation hike from Monjo Camp, it was time to head back to camp, chill, take all the scenery in & enjoy my night before another day of trekking... 

GET 10% OFF ONLINE AT WWW.TISO.COM USING CODE - NORTH10.

Sending good vibes & hope you all check out journal 2 when it's live! 

Tristan.

BACK IN SCOTLAND!

Back In Scotland!

It's amazing being back in Scotland, l feel a lot of people would differ who are originally from Scotland & coming back to a Summer that’s always inconsistent.

My travels In Nepal & Bali were amazing, l have learned & experienced so much, but for me it was time to get back home. l could feel the calling of my Scottish roots to get back here, plus l missed that crisp Scottish fresh air.

Being in Scotland during the Summer is one of my favourite places in the world, Scotland is such a hidden gem.  There is an abundance of highlands throughout Scotland with the opportunity of hiking small mountains, that we like to call munros, within just a few hours drive away, something l really missed when l was travelling.  The bigger cities like Glasgow & Edinburgh have an amazing buzz about them, people are all so happy the days are longer & there is always something happening especially with the excitement of the Edinburgh festival that begins in August which is the largest arts festival in the world.  

Being back home has been great for me, catching up with my friends has been awesome & seeing my family has been something l have really missed. 

There is a lot l have going on right now that I feel has all happened very fast with new and exciting projects in the near future with my main supporters Tiso (Scotland’s leading mountain wear store). I

'm looking forward to sharing with you all what l have in store, especially my blog piece that will be coming out soon about my travels to Base Camp Everest along with pictures l took.

Sending you good vibes,

Tristan