Damn, it’s been months since I started talking about a new travel blog!

Well, now it’s more than just waffle – my new travel blog is available for public consumption at the following link:


Get over there and check it out!

So this means it’s the end for A Jolly Nice Outing.

It’s great to be able to look back over the last couple of years since my departure from the UK. Blogging has also helped me discover my passion for writing and opened doors for me to get work online.

However I’m ready to put this blog down and pick up a different project – the original purpose of staying in touch with friends and family didn’t really translate well over the long term. I’ve discovered that loved ones prefer an email or old fashioned letter to a blog subscription.

I’m also glad to be exploring a shorter posting format in the new blog. There have been times when it seemed a little laborious to be working with longer entries, especially when there was a months’ backlog of entries awaiting my attention.

So from this particular blog, I bid you all farewell and look forward to seeing you on my postcard blog!


grand entrance

It’s been a little quiet since the epic post-fest about my lovely Huaraz trip, almost 2 months ago would you believe.

Well, since then I’ve had a couple of other adventures, including a return to the mighty snow peaks of the central Peruvian cordilleras and a surprising turn as a fashion model.

The reason I haven’t been frantically tapping away about my exploits is because I’m working on a NEW WRITING PROJECT.


I’m going to be sparing on the details, but it’s a blog.  It’s a bit less wordy, a bit more picture-ish.  And as far as I can see, there ‘aint one like it out there – very exciting.

Anyhoo, it’ll take a couple of weeks minimum to bring the beast online so you’ll all have to endure a deafening silence in the meantime.  All this fresh material is being saved for the new blog so that I can launch with a couple of months of content.  Sincere apologies to the current blog.  Blog, it’s not you – it’s me.

But, good news! I’ve just uploaded the most recent lump of photos from the exploits of the last month. You can see ’em on Flickr (click on the photostream images on the right-hand column, or use this link)

hoss and boy

Whoop Whoop!

About two months ago, I was struck by the possibility of making an article out of my upcoming experiences in Huaraz.  Well, I’m super-excited to say that  there was more to my idea than piss and vinegar because Adam Roy, the very nice editor at Matador Sport, just dropped me an email to say that my piece on bouldering the rocks of the Cordillera Blanca has gone live!

It is great to see a pre-trip pitch turn into something put up on a nice big website like Matador, and I have to say I’m addicted; what next?  Llama racing?  Extreme pisco drinking?  I know…shark wrestling.

I’ve really enjoyed being involved in the editorial process and getting a nuts-and-bolts look at what goes into putting an article up at Matador.  My writing has definitely improved for it.

You can see the bouldering article by following the link, and while you are at it I heartily suggest having a browse of Matador’s range of sites; there is some inspiring writing and some fantastic articles.

This, apparently, is a ‘sneeze page’.

Clever online marketing people use it to re-hash old content and give a second life to popular articles and blogs.

Tardy travel bloggers also use them to present a big lump of posts that should have been done a month ago as sequential posts on the actual date-stamp of posting.

I’ll leave it down to the intellect of the reader to guess which category is mine.

My trip to Huaraz in August was a wonderful, life-changing milestone in the never-ending journey that is this Jolly Bloody Nice Outing.  If you’d like to browse the gallery of my experiences, I offer the following.

  1. Trying out hitching for the first time in Peru, against all the advice and odds
  2. A blast from the past – old friends in new places
  3. Walking into a dream-bubble at Keushu
  4. My first glacial meltwater-drinking experience
  5. Outwitted by piles of rocks
  6. The Jolly Nice version of the Santa Cruz trail
  7. What was left of my fingers after researching a climbing article
  8. The marvellous disaster that was the return hitch back home

Good bless all those who make it to the bitter end.  I wish I had a cash prize to offer.

Over the course of the last couple of months, Peru has been gearing itself into a political frenzy in preparation for the national elections on the 3rd of October.  I haven’t seen a great deal of enthusiasm from the population, conversations limited to the occasional grumbling complaint about the general state of things or the corruption in politics.  Nope, the vast majority of the enthusiasm has been from the candidates.

Applying what seem to be near-identical “Shock And Awe” tactics, each candidate from the extensive range of political parties (27 at the last count) is painting walls and erecting huge billboards, attempting to achieve victory by the simple means of literally covering the greatest square meterage of Peru possible.

Each billboard displays an identikit picture of the gurning candidate, normally giving a cheery thumbs-up and festooned in a shirt with the top button casually undone to exemplify that they are, in one hard-hitting combination, a formal and effective politician whilst still being an easy, approachable man of the people.

In modern politics, it is necessary that your campaign influences an apathetic electorate blessed with attention-deficit disorder with your entire policy summarized in the space of 140 characters.  Thus slogans play an important part in the Peruvian politician’s campaign efforts.  Unfortunately, all candidates seem to have employed the same incredibly overworked campaign manager and everyone seems to be employing the same messages.  To make matters worse, the campaign manager seems to have focussed on promoting things that one instinctively expects from a political leader, occasionally degrading into a blatant brainwashing exercise (see number 5).  Here are some examples that I’ve seen replicated amongst the various different candidates:

1) A Trujillo For Everybody!

2)  A Team With An Ability To Lead!

3) Honest And Hardworking!

4) Against Corruption!

5) Mayor of Trujillo!

This has the effect of making one wonder why candidates have to make such a fierce point about honesty, equality, ability to perform one’s job, dedication and corruption; parallels rise in the mind of the dubious character that begins every sentence with the phrase, “To be honest…” which inspires the listener only to consider that honesty, when made explicit, is normally absent.  Continuing the theme, perhaps the campaign manager should also consider the following:

5) Can Tie His Own Shoelaces!

6) Is Pretty Good At Reading!

7) Has A Lovely Smile!  Look!

My personal favourite amongst the candidates, for no other reason than his billboard appearances (and realistically, there isn’t a great deal more to go on) is Fernando Bazan.  Screaming the same messages as everyone else, Fernando looks, for all intents and purposes, like he sheepishly wandered onto the billboard and promptly sat on a cucumber.  After analysis of his photo, I think this is due to the unfortunate presentation of his teeth.

Aside from the amusing circus, there’s a darker side to the proceedings.  “My husband was recently approached by the mayor,” one of my friends tells me, “And told that if he didn’t surrender his wall to be painted for the election, we’d start receiving very expensive water bills.”  Despite what the billboards and bricks tell you, corruption and abuses of power are very much alive and well in Peru.

…And Back Again

Self portrait at altitude

I exit the bathroom briskly to be confronted by a selection of expressions.  Two of them belong to police officers, the other pair to Peruvian truck drivers.  Luckily for me, the police officers look delighted.  The truck drivers, not so much.

“We have found you a ride!” exclaims one of the policemen, thus signalling the end of my four-hour wait at the police control point on the scutty outskirts of Huaraz.

I’m attempting a return hitch solo, Miri having left town some days previous to meet her brother in Lima.  My newfound lust for adventure ever-increasing, I’m attempting a more remote route back to Trujillo over the mountains to Casma.  Up until now it has been an abject failure, but things are looking up.

Giving grovelling thanks to the friendly fuzz, I follow the sour faced drivers out to their vehicle.  It’s a wooden sided camion, with a door set into the side that one of the drivers pops open and impatiently gestures through.  Tossing my bags inside I plant my foot on the tire for a boost and step up strongly through the tiny doorway, striking the top of my head on the frame with painful mis-judgement.

My vision swims and I hear a sharp intake of breath from somewhere inside the belly of the enclosed truck bed.  “Ooh, gringo, cuidado,” someone says.  Normal vision returns, and I realise there are already various occupants in my plank-lined cell.  The truck sets off with a shuddering grind of gears, and I slump on a sack of something, groping for a brace against the random bumps that test my balance.

My truck-mates begin tying blankets to various parts of the sides of the enclosure, creating makeshift sun-shades to protect against the beating sun.  They arrange themselves around the few full sacks dotted around the otherwise empty truck.  I realize I’m in for a toasting without sun cream, and pull out a tube.  “Ooh gingo, prestamelo”, whines one of the señoras; lend me some.  That proves to be the ice-breaker and within ten minutes I’ve set up my tent inside the truck-bed as a sunshade for some of the occupants and Sun Cream Lady has led me to the shelf above the drivers cabin at the front of the truck where I ride up high feeling like the king of the world as we climb out of the valley and over the Cordillera Negra.  It turns out all the occupants are in cahoots with the driver, everyone heading to Chimbote to sell the contents of the sacks and bring back a full truck of wood.

It isn’t long before the driver pulls to a halt to reprimand me for sitting above the cab.  “You could fall off the front,” he grumbles.  I retire sheepishly to the interior of the truck-bed once more, my romantic bubble well and truly burst.

The truck rolls to a stop once more.  “We’re getting out for lunch,” explains one of my fellow in-mates. “Afterwards you wait here while we fetch wood.  We can’t continue because the road is closed for work until five in the afternoon.”  I’m buggered if I’m waiting around for a few hours.  “I’ll come with you,” I cheerfully suggest, “I want to be useful.”  “Suit yourself,” he replies.  Thus I board the truck through the back door once more, this time with significantly more caution than the first attempt.  Leaving the women-folk behind, we rumble off into the hills.

A steady stream of men join us and after a meandering 45 minutes we reach a large pile of wood.   Everyone exits the truck to hurl helpful abuse at the driver, who attempts a multiple-point turn on a matchstick-thin path which crowns a cliff.  Eventually the truck and driver are facing back from whence we came and a chain gang is set up, hurling logs into the back at speed.  “Eeyy gringo, do they work this hard in Germany?” grins one of the log-chuckers.  “No, in my country everyone is fat and sits in-front of a computer all day,” I reply, deciding that it is easier to continue harbouring the illusion of my native origins.

Job done and full of splinters, we sit astride the vast pile of logs and sluggishly wobble back along the narrow track, certain death a couple of crumbling feet away.  Conversation swings between Quechua and Spanish so eventually I lose interest in keeping track of the dialogue.  At some point a four-wheel drive pickup pulls across our path ahead of the bus and the driver descends to converse with the occupants.  “What’s going on?” I ask my log-chum.  “They are angry because we don’t have a permit to remove wood from this zone,” he tells me, “And there will be a fine.”  Money changes hands and with the delay in crooked negotiations we arrive back into town as darkness is falling.  There’s no way I’m going to make it to Trujillo today.  “No problem, sleep on the floor of the market with us,” the driver suggests, shattering all my preconceptions of him being a bad-tempered bastard.  My internal adventure rating slips off the scale with a click.

“Where the fuck have you been?” the women chirp as they climb back into the truck laden with gigantic bundles that I try in vain to assist them with.  “We had to negotiate a bribe,” I explain.  They tut and roll their eyes.  Our vehicle rolls off into the setting sun along the winding mountain dust.

I’m sitting on a giant pile of wood in the back of a bumping truck as the stars pop out of the twilight that steadily consumes the burning sky of sunset.  In the gathering dusk, the women open their bundles, chattering to each other in the sing-song dialect of Quechua.  The thick fragrance of wild herbs fills the air and my soul swells to the point of exploding with the sheer ridiculous joy of my immediate present, right now.

They sort through the herbs and bunch them by moonlight, passing me bread from a large bag and following it up with a blanket.  With my head crooked at an angle that I know will make me suffer, I drift off to sleep.  Occasionally someone clambers on to the truck and steps on my face with a surprised, “Eeyy, gringo,” before I return to slumber.  Headlights fade in and out of my consciousness.  Road works, groups of floodlights cutting through the darkness, blotting out the stars, workmen, voices.

Voices, packages passed up, lowered, groups waiting patiently in the darkness by the side of the road, whole communities lined up.  Waiting for the truck.

2am.  As if cued for an exposition scene in a movie, I drift into a state of awareness as we pass under the sign for Casma.

The engine cuts.  “Gringo!  We get down now.”  I stumble from the truck with my neck jacked up hard to the left and my bags dangling from my arms.  They throw a blanket down on the floor under a canopy in the dark.  It smells worse than the one I slept under in the truck.  Sandwiched between the stinking warmth with my bag for a pillow I sink again as shadows move in the growing distance.

I awake with a start to the sight of an old man staring down over me.  “Buenos dias,” I offer groggily and he shakes his head, shuffling off.  Bloody gringos.  6.30am.  The movement and noise trickles down into my senses and I realize that I’m lying in the middle of a busy market.  I quickly sit up.  My bags lie a couple of feet from where I left them, untouched; I clock at this point that during my whole experience at the utter mercy of my travelling companions, I never once felt threatened or in danger.  I rise to my feet and stare stupidly at the new incarnation of my travellers; slick business-people selling the wares.  I blunder over to one of the guys.  “When did you get up?” I ask in the absence of anything else to say.  “I haven’t been to sleep,” he cheerfully replies before attending to a customer that seems to be interested in his beans.

My bloodshot eyes take in the scene.  I have absolutely no idea where I am, and I’m the only white chap in the entire market.  Shouldering my bags, as a paltry expression of thanks I offer a handshake to the guys and a peck on the cheeks of the girls that leaves the surrounding gentry clucking.  I’ve not made it all the way to Trujillo, but I know when I’ve had my fill of adventure.  Wandering via a filthy cup of instant coffee to the exit, I squeeze into the first taxi that I can flag down and submit to the luxury of a direct bus to Trujillo from the central Chimbote terminal.


This is what happens when one’s pansy soft fingertips slip off climbing holds a few too many times.  Needless to say, my plans have changed as the majority of research for an article on bouldering in Huaraz must be conducted from the position of a spectator.  Bugger.

fingers mc raw