Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Only 4 days to go !

Check out Andy Gardiner's blog below as he prepares for his biggest challenge to date.


Friday, 7 November 2014

My Sahara Diary. The Dimise of Gary #4

Camp broke and off we went.  It was Anitas birthday and instead of the camels setting off we walked with them, which was really nice.   A bit further on and as a birthday treat for Anita, we were allowed - if we wanted - to ride a camel.   I had said to Annais, my daughter, that I would have my picture taken on a camel.  Chris and the others in the team stated that I had to ride it as well.  There was nothing I could do but comply.  Petrified, I felt the camel rise.  Firstly forward and then backwards then off you go.  All I could do was remember what Harry had said, dont put yourself at risk.  Looking down, I knew if I fell I would definitely break something.  So I held on and eventually relaxed and quite enjoyed my little self.  You could see so much more on a camel.

Everyone who wanted to took a turn and the day, even though hot, was not as windy and the trek continued.  We had a break and Mammon had a bag of oranges for us to eat.  I normally dont like to get the peel in my fingers but I put that to one side and really enjoyed the fruit, giving the peel to the camels.  Being covered up was the right thing to do and I enjoyed the walk even though it was quite a while before we stopped for our lunch.  The guides took the camels to a well nearby and surprised us by bringing water back so that we could all have enough water for everyone to shower.  I will never ever forget how refreshing it was to wash my hair and have a strip wash under the moonlight.  You could have packaged that feeling and sold it for a fortune at Christmas.  I knew now why it was so important for me to be there and how water is an essential that everyone needs and should not go without.  That evening we again sat on a dune and watched the sun go down.  It was heavenly.

The demise of Gary.  Eid was the festival that the guides were celebrating.  It goes back to the Old Testament when Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son.  Abraham showed his love for God and he was about to kill his son.  God told him that his faith and love had saved his child and he was now to slaughter a sheep instead.  Gary died and the guides shared their festival with us by sharing their meat and their company with us.

Anita then had a surprise.  One of the guides made her a birthday cake.  They made a pizza-like dough and cooked it in the coals of the fire and then topped it with jam, apple, cinnamon and cheese.  They asked Lolly to spell her name and, although when they brought out the cake, Amelia thought it was topped with anchovies, it was actually piped on chocolate.  We all were touched by their kindness and thoughtfulness.  A singsong then proceeded with the guides and then the Brightly Hodges family doing their family song.  I cant remember when I had laughed so much.  An early night was needed as we were going to get up at 4am and walk to a really high dune and greet the morning.

Under the stars and again tucked up nice and snug but still with my keep me safe prayer, 4 a.m. arrived and up we all got.  Nick lent me a torch, as I could not find mine (useless).  He was a really kind person and it was lovely to see how he and Amelia were so happy with each other.  Off we went into the darkness.  Another adventure and some new challenges in front of me.  I knew I would struggle.  The dunes in complete darkness are a bit like the sea when its on a turn.  Respect is needed and fear is not to be shown.  I was respectful enough but I was pushing myself too hard and failing hugely.  All of a sudden, I felt despair and wanted to cry as this was all a bit too much for me.  I thought everyone was in front and I was falling flat on my face.  All of a sudden Angie was behind me with Jim.  They both encouraged me as well as calmed me down.  I had my inhaler and I knew I had used it too much already but   I still could not see in front of me but I had Angie and Jim at my side calming me down.  Slowly we went on and upward.  The dunes were getting steeper and I was not sure if I could do this.  I wondered what would I do if I fell and broke something.  But having Angie and Jim there I felt safe.  The huge dune loomed ahead of me, threatening my self-control to give way.  I got half way up and then I started to feel quite sick.  A case of too much inhaler steroids, fear and nothing in my stomach.  I sat down and said I could not go on.  My stomach started to go into the motions of being sick and I felt quite close to tears.  Angie pulled out an energy bar and asked me to eat it slowly.  I did and started breathing slowly as well which calmed me down.  All the team had made it and we were only half way up.  Angie asked me how old Annais was and I said 22 years old.  She said, Why dont you go 22 more steps and then, if you cant go any further, we will stopI agreed.  I was told later that I had fallen for the oldest trick in the book.  Jim then said why didnt I stand in his footsteps and that way I would slow down and be able to catch my breath.  Between Angie and Jim I made it to the top and everyone clapped.  I was over the moon.  I thanked Angie and her reply was, that was what friends were for.  I was really touched.  On the way down I shed a tear or two just out of relief and pride in the fact I had made it.

In view of the stress of the morning, my asthma had kicked in so I was told to ride a camel for an hour, which I did.  I dismounted feeling much better although I focused on breathing and not speaking to anyone for quite a while.  It was getting really hot.  Jim said we would be another half an hour before we reached camp.  We knew by now that meant at least an hour if not more; it was two hours.  In the distance, we spied a tower and that was our destination; it seemed to take an age before we arrived.  Some of the team were struggling with blisters now.  I was called Ms. Boots as I had brought with me loads of Compeed, Savlon and Sudacrem, as well as mouthwash, antiseptic etc. etc.  When we arrived, the mats were taken off the camels and they were free to roam for a couple of hours.  Mint tea was served and then fresh salad, bread and of course the flies!!  We all sat in the shade and tried to relax.  Slumber prevailed for a while.

Nick, who was our camera man, had joked with Mammon that he could have his camera if Mammon gave him some coke.  Before we left camp, we were told his cousin would be going to a village by motor bike and when we arrived in camp, he would bring us all a coke.  We were all so excited at the prospect, it was like he had promised us the best thing in the world and at that moment in time it was.

We all packed up and off we went.  The pace was slower as the sun was still very hot and we were all quite tired.  Eventually we arrived at camp and with the promise of the coke we were all quite excited.  The camp was situated under some trees and it was very picturesque.  When we heard a motorbike arriving we were all like excited children waiting for Christmas morning.  The coke had arrived and tasted like honey. Then, as if like magic, the cook came out with donuts, chocolate spread and fig jam - mmm plus we had a third surprise.  Water for a shower for the second night running.  Like I said, it was just like Christmas with that sense of magic in the air.  However, it was not magic in the air, it was mosquitoes!!!!

Ms. Boots came into action with a jungle spray and an antiseptic pen that cooled down bites.  Poor Amelia was bitten all over.  That evening we had another singsong around the fire and Mammon's cousin had a lovely voice.  The Brightly Hodges declined to sing the family song so Chris took over and with Amelia and Lolly supporting on drums, the crowds were well pleased.  Angies camel guide then got Angie up and I joined them for the wedding dance.  It was a lovely evening.

We slept under the stars again but fortune was not shining on me that evening.  It had become damp and through the night I started with asthma; in the morning it was quite bad.  Angie suggested boiling hot water and a cloth to breath in and clear my lungs . It did help but I spent the rest of the morning on a camel and tried not to worry too much.  The team were quite concerned, so was I.

That afternoon, I was much better and was able to walk with the company again.  Most of the team had blisters and Angie and I farmed out the plasters and the antiseptic.  Mammon had a little oasis and some huts that had been built for nutters who liked to trek across the desert.  He had said that he had bore hole in which we might be able to have a splash around.  The last bit of the walk was walking across a dried up riverbankThis was a nightmare for the people who had succumbed to blisters.  Huge stones and pebbles and it seemed to go on forever.  Then at last we saw a settlement and that inspired us to put our best feet forward, damaged or not, and give it our best.  As usual, the distance from sight to actual was huge and we were all extremely tired.  The mats were placed in a hut that looked like a stable and we all lay down.  As usual, the flies followed us in and we seemed to be inundated with them.

Mint tea and then lunch avec flies was served.  Some of my friends were curious about the bore hole that Mammon had talked about and went in search of it.  They came back quite excited.  Mammon and his friends were filling up a tank that was made of some type of plasterboard.  I went in search of it myself and came back with Angie - both of us had decided to have a dip.  Anita, Amelia, Sheri, Chris, Nick, Lolly and Jim were already in the pool; the tank was pumping water in.  The only thing was, how could I get in?  Anita came up with the solution.  I stood on Angies knee, turned around and sat on the sill.  Chris then helped me into the pool.  With a great sense of satisfaction, I went under the pump and let water spray itself all over me.  It was exhilarating!!!!  We must have stayed in there for ages and then went back to the stable.  Most of the team were there and it was decided that the boys needed to sort out their blisters, as they could not walk on them.  I wont bore you with the details but with the help of some antiseptic etc., their feet, including Jims, were sorted.  The sand dune called us for the usual ritual and the sun sank and bade us goodnight.

I had decided to sleep in the stable due to the night being cold but also a tad damp and I did not want to start having asthma again.  It was our last night in the Sahara and we had a lovely meal.  The camels had gone but the guides came back and we all tipped them as they had done a fantastic job of looking after us.

We had to get up early to drive back to Marrakesh.  Bags packed and everyone was in the coach.  Jim came round and handed me my sleeping bag with a sly smile.  Whoops!  Whilst we were leaving the camp,  it dawned on me that I had not put my bag in the coach.  I casually asked whether I needed to have put my bag in the coach or had someone done it for me?  I felt so stupid.  What was I thinking?  I have no idea but fortunately someone had picked it up and put it in the back for me.  There were some sarcastic remarks - all done with good humour, of course - I was so thankful no one could see me blush.  We all closed our eyes and peace resumed for quite a while.

The journey back to Marrakesh was uneventful.  The scenery was amazing and the driver drove so well we arrived in the city at around 4.30 in the afternoon.  We eventually found the hotel and the bags were collected on a trolley by a man who obviously had had a bad day as he was quite rude.  All the formalities were taken care of and rooms and keys were given.  I was sharing with Angie again so I was quite happy with that.  The pool was in front of our room, so I was keen to get my costume on and go for a swim.  No flies was the first thing I noticed and was very happy.  Trust me to go into the bathroom and take one of the fixtures off the wall.  I could not do anything but laugh and I swore Angie to secrecy.  The swim was invigorating and we all got dressed for dinner.

According to Jim, Marrakesh was quiet but to me it was really busy, coming from a quiet village in Leicestershire.  There were so many stalls and I found it quite intimidating.  You also have to haggle or barter for your goods.  Some of the people were quite rude.  I have never wanted to not get lost in a place so much.
My daughter Annais wanted a Moroccan light, so after Jim showed us where we would be eating, some of the girls went shopping.  Chris wanted a beer and Jim did not do shopping if he could help it.  He once told me he used fairy liquid as shower gel.  The shop was just around the corner but he could not be bothered; a man thing I think.  We looked in quite a few shops and had a look at many different items of leather goods, pottery and, of course, glass.  My mother always kept me out of the pottery and glassware sections in stores and I do the same with Annais.  Things seem to happen and no one knows why.  I try to look and not touch, it is always the best policy.

Dinner was a delight and to everyones taste, mine included.

Sleeping in a bed was so nice although both Angie I slept in our sleeping bag liners.  A sense of peace and quiet came over me that evening and I fell fast asleep.  I awoke with a sense of excitement.  Showered, packed and ready for breakfast, I would be going home soon with so much to tell.  Breakfast was not like it was in the Sahara and I missed the quiet, the scenery and I must admit, the flies.  Daft as it may seem, they were part of a picture.  Every picture has a story to tell and without each piece the story would have a different tale.  The flies were part of a picture of serenity, wide open spaces, laughter, challenges, a sense of achievement and friendship, as well as making a difference to human beings who were not even aware of our existence.

Shopping had to be done but culture also needed to be part of the day.  A visit to the Kings Palace and the gardens was on the agenda and it was really beautiful.  The craftsmanship of the carvings and the mosaics that were on the floor, ceiling and walls was amazing and I would not have missed it for the world.

Amelia and Anita then went shopping for material for cushion covers.  They bartered and got the best price.  Nick and I looked on whilst Lolly did her own bargaining.  The lamp for Annais needed to be bought and Anita thought I ought to buy myself something as well.  So a-shopping we went.  Anita pointed out one shop and I went in.  Something caught my eye and as usual, I lunged for the item.  Unfortunately the item was at the back - some of the lamps lost their balance and fell.  The shop had been quiet.  Nick and Amelia made a quick exist.  Anita stayed put and smiled.  I apologized profusely to this very kind man who said he liked me and for me not to worry.  I found the lamp I wanted, bargained for the price, paid and left.  After that, I never ventured to touch anything again much to the relief of my friends.

Lunch was eaten and we were near to departure from Marrakesh.  Our bags were picked up and onto the coach we went.  Everything went like clockwork.  Into the departure lounge and on to the plane.  On the flight, what we had done and what we had achieved did not feel real.  I felt in a bit of a whirl.  A taxi picked us up and dropped us off back at Anitas where it was coffee and muffins and off to bed.  Up, shower, brunch and onto the train.

Harry was meeting me with Bertie and I was so excited but whyI felt like I had dreamt it all.  It was a joy to be home.  The last 10 days seemed to have disappeared.  Back home and back to work and I still had that same sense of bewilderment.

Monday, 3 November 2014

My Sahara Diary, By Karen Stead #3

I would have thought that I might have been worried but I was quite calm and had every confidence in our guide.  He was extremely intelligent and well travelled.  He was an entrepreneur and I had every respect for him.  His name was Mammon.  He located the rest of the company and off we went again into the sand and the wind.  

On our arrival at the camp, I noticed we had a visitor; it was a goat.  The guides were celebrating Eid and the goat was part of the festival.  We named him Gary.  The demise of Gary will be noted in a later paragraph.  Lunch stop was a delight and the team were all very happy to drop on to a mat and lie down.  Even though the wind and sand blew around us, we all lay down and had a snooze.  I lay with my hat over my face shivering.  The sun had been too much for me and I decided in the morning I would make sure I covered myself up.  As soon as we stopped, the flies arrived.  When the wind had abated, lunch was served.  Fresh salad and pasta with melon for afterwards.  How the cook managed to prepare and serve such things was beyond me.  He only had a gas stove.  It was decided that as the wind had not calmed down as much as the guides would have liked, we would stay put.  Which was fine by everyone as the first part of the trek had been quite difficult.  When the sun had got up it had been really hot and then with the wind it made walking quite hard.  We were all glad of a rest.

 Later in the afternoon, we all decided to walk up to a dune and see the sunset.  This was going to be part of our routine.  Sheri we named Mary Poppins because she always had something nice that she pulled out of her bag - wine, sweets, hula hoops and energy bars.  Sheri had also brought some wine with her and some peanuts.  We all sat on the dune with a tiny amount of wine and watched the sun set.  It was so delightful and yet eerie.  We were sitting sipping wine in the middle of the Sahara without a care in the world watching one of the most beautiful sunsets.  It was to be a very special routine.  After walking all day and being extremely tired and hot, the evenings were a delight and so restful.  Sitting on a sand dune and watching the sun sink and the moon rise was as good as a Horlicks at home.  Really relaxing and peaceful.

The camels settled down for the night.  The tents had been kindly erected by the guides and dinner was served.  We had some really lovely evenings sitting around the campsite with our guides.  They sang and made music with us using empty water drums.  It was such fun.  We found out that one of the camel guides was a real nomad.  He lived in the desert with his dad and owned one camel.  I cant recollect his name but Angie my friend, who was such a lovely lady, could sign and took everyone by surprise by starting speaking to him.  He had never spoken to anyone outside his village before and he was over the moon that he could interact with us this way.  It was quite moving and I think some of us shed a tear.  The camel guides are the only ones who had taken time out to learn how to speak to him in sign language.  The interaction between them all was so nice.  They had a sense of humour and played tricks on each other.  They were quite funny to watch. 

That evening, we decided to sleep under the stars.  I was rather nervous, as I was not quite sure I really wanted to do this.  Everyone else was keen and I didnt want to look like the odd one out (or look like a fool).  I hid my fear and set my mat down near to Angie who I felt I could trust and who, if anything happened, would know what to do.  Chris, one of the lads who was forever teasing me, stated in the morning, Karen will have had her sleeping liner plus sleeping bag right up to her nose.  He was not wrong.  However, Lolly, Hailey, Nick and Amelia had stopped laughing and had gone to sleep.  All was quiet except for the grunting noises of the camels, which I found so comforting.  The moon was so bright and the stars were beautiful.  You felt you could put your hand out and touch them and become as one with the universe.  I spent an age just thanking God for allowing me the privilege of being here.  My prayers said (the last one being, I put my trust in you O Lord please dont let anything happen to me this evening and dont let anything come into my sleeping bag. Amen.), I fell fast asleep.  What made me awake early that morning I have no idea.  I awoke looking straight into the heavens and almost at once saw a shooting star, one after another after another.  I thought I had died and gone to heaven,  as I had never seen anything so spectacular and stunning in all my life.

Friday, 31 October 2014

My Sahara Trek Diary #2

The coach arrived at a little village called Mhamid and this was where we met our first guide.  He invited us into his house and laid on a banquet.  Fresh salad, bread, and a tagine.  I was getting used to the mint tea which is always served to guests.  The temperature rose and we were told to relax, as we would be starting our trek as soon as the temperature dropped.  Lying back on the cushions I wondered would I be all right and was Harry, my partner, right to be worried.  A tad perplexed, I put my boots on and joined in the banter of the team who were all excited to depart.  Anita must have known I was worried as she kept an eye on me.  My platypus leaked as we departed and I got even more flustered.  I knew everyone was capable but was I just downright stubborn?  What ifs ?  Too late, I had to succeed as I was determined not to have egg on my face and those villages needed their wells.  OK I am clumsy and downright gormless when in a tight spot.  I could relax and enjoy this adventure couldnt I?  So they had no toilets and no showers and I had soon to learn that they have flies in abundance but I would manage.  Next time I would bring some fly killer with me - if there is to be a next time?

The trek had started and I really enjoyed the walking.  The scenery was to die for.  Tough as it might have been, I knew this was probably the easiest bit of the trek.  I wish I had not been so right.  Why I thought no flies would be in the Sahara I have no idea for, as we stopped, they came.  The tents had been put up before our arrival and the camp looked quite cozy.  My first big mistake when we arrived was to tip out onto the ground the remaining water in my platypus.  Everyone was really surprised.  I nonchalantly stated it did not taste very nice but was told that water was precious and I could not do that in the desert.  Shamefaced, I pretended not to care but inside I wanted to jump into the nearest hole and hide.  We sat on the mats and chatted around the rug where our dinner was to be placed.  I was admiring the sunset when all of a sudden the world took on a different look.  The wind picked up and swirling sand drove us all into a big tent.  The sand storm took us by surprise and the guides tried to make sure our tents were not blown away.  I found a corner where I felt safe and we waited for it to calm down.  Dinner was served and Jim had kindly asked for the cook to make a plate of plain food for me - it was very tasty.  Dinner was always mint tea first, then soup with bread, a tagine of some kind, although we had chicken and chips as well as spaghetti bolognaise, which was very nice.

That night when the sand storm had departed, in its haste it had left most of the sand in everyones bags and tents.  Some of the tents were damaged and had to be sorted out.  Eventually, everyone got into their tents but it was too warm to climb into our sleeping bags so we slept in our liners and tried to sleep.  Even though the desert is a quiet place, it has its own night noises.  One of the most comforting noises was that of the camels; they made me feel very safe.

Dawn and a new day emerged.  Sleep had left me feeling rested.  Although sleeping on the floor was a new experience to me, it was pleasant.  Getting washed and dressed was a bit of a nightmare.  The sandstorm the night before had covered everything in sand and although I used my wet ones I still felt slightly sandy and dirty.  Tents down, bags re-packed and breakfast was a routine that I would get very used to.  With the breakfast came the flies.  I think I must be getting used to them.  Qué será, será’ (what will be will be) came into my head nearly every mealtime.  We had tea/coffee and bread of course, cheese spread, which was really nice, and porridge which got thicker at every serving.  Chocolate spread was a favourite with everyone, especially Chris.

Everyone had got used to me tripping up and knocking things over by now.  It was a running joke.  Water was poured into my glass and passed to me to make sure I did not drop anything and scold anyone, which I had done on too many occasions.  Coffee ended up being put into my glass for me as, for some reason one morning, I missed the glass completely much to everyones amusement.  I really should have bought glasses with me.  (My excuse!)  

The camels did not like being loaded with our bags and they grunted in disdain.  Mind you, I think I would as well. The camels went off and we followed.  However, they were walking at a quick pace and soon were lost out of sight.  The morning was peaceful with some delightful views.  We walked and chatted or walked with our own thoughts.  The desert can be a place where you find yourself and your own inner being.  I found it so tranquil.  However, things change quite dramatically in the desert.  The wind started to get stronger and in the distance you could see the sand being blown across the dunes.  Spectacular as it was, we were walking straight into it.  The rest of the walk I found quite difficult.  Even though I had put on factor 50 sun cream, I was getting quite burnt and we were walking right into the wind and the sand storm.  Our guide asked us to stay put by some dunes and we took refuge there whilst he went on for a while to see if he could see where the rest of the company were.  I had drunk all my water much to the amusement of my friends.  Jim our organizer gave me some more although I was told that that would have to last till we reached camp.  That was quite a while away.