Did you know that [counter] people have been having a skeg at my little autonomous region?


Thermal Vest


Today I travelled to Calne, Bristol and Bath on my way to Peru which isn’t far away now, in terms of time that is. Distance wise it is still 6,165 miles but two weeks from now I will be nearer. Not a lot nearer really but two weeks from this very moment in time I will have completed the first leg of my journey, I will be sitting patiently but excitedly in Madrid airport and I will only be 5,712 miles from Cuzco. 

I travelled to Calne first thing this morning for a good long swim to help boost my aerobic capacity as part of my preparation for the struggle to cope with the reduced oxygen levels in the atmosphere 16,000 feet up into the Andes. Swimming or not, when I go to Calne (a place that Inca civilisation never reached) and have a look around the place it always leaves me breathless. So that should be good practice. 

I travelled to the fashionable Brislington district of Bristol to complete the purchase of the last few items that remained outstanding on my packing list for Peru. I didn’t buy anything all that exciting but it all excited me because every little thing I bought formed part of my survival kit. The ‘Go Outdoors’ shop had almost everything I needed but it confused me a little at first because when I enter most shops I am told by the staff there to go outdoors, at best, but more often to piss off and never come back. 

I spent far too much money but every penny was spent wisely as almost everything I bought will get used again many times after I have returned from my trip. Items such as top quality walking trousers, thin but warm fleecy tops, a very large hat for a very large head (I’ve never known a better fit in all my life . . . hats off to the hats department!), a head torch (handy when you want to open a can of Guinness in bed in the middle of the night but can’t be arsed reaching across to switch the bedside lamp on), a bottle of all purpose soap (which can be used to wash your skin, your clothes and your vegetables and which will be very handy in the event of all three getting messy at the same time . . . like they do), and a lightweight trek towel for drying yourself, but not your vegetables, at high altitude. 

I travelled to Bath to buy several more travel items. My shopping list by then was covered in ticks, as I fear I may turn out to be myself if I don’t make up my mind soon in the malaria versus cancer based ‘should I take some Deet insect repellent with me?’ debate. Now I don’t mind taking a few risks with medicaments to avoid a nasty illness whilst on holiday, even if it does mean putting up with a few iffy side effects, but the last time I used Deet I left some on my hands which caused my plastic pen to melt slightly when I started to write. Almost a year later I was still worried about what else might melt when I touch it so I opted not to buy any today and instead to let the mozzies sweat a few more days while I do a bit of research on the world wide web. 

One of the things I did buy in Bath was a thermal vest. Sleeping in a tent up a mountain in South America can be a rather chilly (not Chile) affair so sturdy night attire would be essential if I hoped to get a good night’s sleep and wake up alive the next morning. So I bought my Fred West in Marks & Sparks and the procurement process turned out to be an astonishingly complex one. At the top of the escalator I was greeted by a nice lady in an M&S uniform who asked me if she could help because I looked lost. As she grappled with me to lead me away from the lingerie department, I told her what I wanted and she said they’d cleared their winter stock off the shop floor to promote their spring range but they may have had some in the stockroom if I could spare a few minutes while she got someone to have a search around for me. She went away and seconds later another nice lady in an M&S uniform approached me and asked me to confirm what I was wishing to buy before she rang the stockroom manager. During the next ten minutes another two nice ladies in M&S uniforms came up to me separately, each asking me to be patient as they had been informed that it was taking longer than expected to locate my requested item. Eventually another nice lady in an M&S uniform appeared, bearing a broad grin of success and wielding a package containing a thermal vest. I thanked her and took the item to the cash desk where yet another nice lady in an M&S uniform said to me, “Ah, they found you one in the end then?” At this point it seemed to me that a large proportion of the female population of Bath had been discussing my underwear requirements . . . but probably not for the first time! 

In the evening my old mate Angela, the wise woman of the mountains, came round to my house to relate her tales of her trek to Machu Picchu and to show me her photographs. The Peruvian Andes look and sound such a fabulous place to visit . . . I think thirteen more days is more than I can bear to wait. Thank you Angela.

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