Friday, 20 November 2009

Miracle Fund

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The town of Pisco

Pisco is a coastal town in Peru, South America. On the 15th August 2007 a massive earthquake destroyed over 80% of the homes, killing around 600 people. Today, over 2 years after the disaster, there are still many people without adequate housing and sanitation. Large numbers of people are still living in makeshift tents and shelters or squatting, after their homes were destroyed in the earthquake.

Pisco Sin Fronteras

Pisco Sin Fronteras (PSF) is a small non-profit organisation which was founded in August 2008 on the first year anniversary of the massive earthquake which devastated the city of Pisco. PSF gives assistance to the people who need it most by helping to build houses, schools, sanitation units and helping with other community-based projects. It is a fully voluntary organisation which receives no government funds. We are supported entirely by donations, fund raising and volunteering.

Unfortunately the amount of aid and help available to the people of Pisco has declined in the last 12 months due to the extraction of Non Government Organisations (NGO´s), leaving many people with no way of providing their family with adequate housing and respectable living conditions. Besides the obvious primary impact of the earthquake, Pisco is now facing the subsequent social and economic problems an event of this scale creates, such as high crime and unemployment.

The current need for aid is as high as ever.

A large percentage of PSF’s work involves providing cost free labour for those families who can afford the materials but not the labour. In order to help those families who can not afford their own materials and those most in need, PSF relies on money from fundraising and donations to buy the materials.

Currently there are many families living in small makeshift shelters built from scrap materials, esterra (crushed bamboo) and plastic. The quality of the materials is poor, leaving the families vulnerable, with poor protection and security. They are normally built directly on dirt floors, therefore families are forced to live in constant dust and dirt. Along with the poor sanitation this leads to disease and poor health, especially among young children.

How you can help

Nearly everyone in Pisco needs help. At the most basic level this involves getting people out of tents and makeshift shelters and into more substantial housing and providing adequate sanitation.

One example that shows just how little an amount of money can help is the building of a modular house:

For less than 400 pounds a modular (wooden) house can be provided on a solid concrete floor, allowing families comfort, security and better sanitation. The cost breakdown is shown on the next page, showing just how small a donation can help:

As we, PSF, provide all the labour needed for the preparation and construction of the concrete foundation, and the company that provides the modular house also provides a skilled local worker needed for safe assembly. Therefore all the money donated goes directly to providing for those in real need.


We, Eddie and Alice, are hoping to raise some money in order to set up our own project to help a family (or families, depending on how much we raise) in need. The amount of money we raise will determine what exactly we spend it on, whether it be providing a family with housing, better sanitation or helping provide for a school. Once we know how much we have raised we will assess where the money can be of most help and will update those who have donated on the details and progress of our project. We hope to have raised the money by the New Year (2010) and to be in Peru to see the project through.

Unfortunately due to various (legitimate) reasons, PSF does not have its own bank account at the present moment. This means that any donations have to go via our personal bank account so that we can withdraw the money here in Peru. This is much easier for us than going through the PSF website ( donation option that sends the money to a contact in the USA which is a very lengthy process.

Therefore in order to donate either:

  1. Email: and we will reply with information on donating straight into our bank account.
  2. Send a check made out to ´Edward Kelly´. Please email ( for our UK mailing address). Please enclose a note with your contact information and name.
  3. If the best way for you to donate is via the PSF website then make sure to you make a note saying the money is to go to ´Alice and Eddie Miracle Fund´.

With all donations please email us ( when you have donated so we can keep track on all the much needed donations and keep you updated on the progress of the project(s). If you have any questions please email us.

The people that need your help

Following are examples of the residents of Pisco that need your help. A volunteer has approached each family and assessed their needs based on several criteria. It is important to note that the money raised will go to helping those in real need, but not necessarily the examples in this handout.

Name: Erica Date of assessment: 04/05/09

Background information: A fisherman and family of 5 people (Husband, 35; wife, 28; grandmother, 52; two children 8 and 4 years old). They lived in a typical, poorly constructed adobe (poor quality and cheap bricks) house, but it was destroyed by the earthquake and no longer stands.

Current living conditions: They live in a tent at the same site as their destroyed house. There are no hygienic toilet facilities; a bucket in the corner of the tent is all they have. Drinking water has to be boiled and there is no electricity.

What they need: To clear/demolish the current area in which they live. Construct a modular house providing protection, security and better sanitation for the family. Provide proper toilet facilities.

Name: Maria Date of assessment: 03/05/09

Background Information: Maria has 6 children. Maria’s 7 year old has a hernia but they don’t have the necessary money for the surgery. Her husband is a builder but is currently unemployed. He used to work as a caretaker but the wage was too low.

Current living conditions: They are currently living in a plastic and bamboo shack which is based on a dirt floor. The home has no toilet facility and all 8 members of the family are sharing 2 mattresses.

What they need: A modular house to provide better sanitation and security for the family. Toilet facilities also required.

Name: Rosa Date of assessment: 03/05/09

Background Information: Woman and husband with 4 children. Husband is a mototaxi driver. The family lives in a village on the outskirts of Pisco. The youngest child is 5 months old and is suffering from bronchitis and isn’t recovering due to the family’s bad living conditions.

Current living conditions: The family’s home is made of esterra (crushed bamboo sheets) and plastic. The house is surrounded by rubbish and faeces. The home has one large bed in which all 6 members of the family sleep. The village is located on a hill which tends to be very breezy at night. This is jeopardizing the baby´s health.

What they need: A modular home, allowing a clean environment, better shelter from the weather and better protection for the family.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009


From the Chinese border we got 2 buses to get to Muang Sing, a town in the North of Laos. Already we felt the difference between Laos and China. Laos felt very laid back and the people are really friendly. The countryside was beautiful and green. That evening we went for a beerlao (pretty much the only beer in Laos but its very good!) and felt very relaxed! We hired bikes for a day and went to explore the countryside and villages and also spent 3 days trekking through the hill villages nearby. We had debated whether or not we should go trekking as you are only allowed to trek with a guide and through a company. This is the government's way of making sure the money goes back into the community (and their pockets?!), but it was quite expensive for our budget. In the end it was well worth it. Our guide was very friendly and a very good cook, although he got quite tired out by the walking! We stayed overnight in hill villages inhabited by the Akha tribe people.

The village we stayed in on the first night had a water supply from pumps the Germans had built in 2001. This meant we could wash under the pumps, but the whole village (the women, children and old people as the men were working out in the fields) came out to watch us washing so we didn't get that clean! Later a villager wandered over to us with a giant mouse/ guinea pig creature tied onto a 'lead' with a string through the skin on its back (we're not really sure what the proper name for the animal is because we'd never seen one before!) and we were asked if we would like to have it for our dinner. Killing it proved to be a little difficult - it came back to life when they were boiling it - but it didn't taste too bad, bit fatty, lots of bones, our guide was delighted that neither of us wanted to eat the head so he could have it! The guts made for a tasty dish with vegetables. The next morning we left for the second village. After a days walking through secluded but shaded jungle trails passing the odd local carrying big loads on their heads we arrived in a large village. Unfortunately half of the villagers had moved out and the rest were to follow within the year as this village had no water supply and life was getting increasingly tough. We had a nice evening wandering around and playing cards with the locals. The kids in Laos seem very happy - they are given a lot of freedom and just seem to play all day! The next morning it was raining hard, but we made it back by lunchtime and got a bus to Luang Nam Tha where we stayed for the night before moving on to Huayxai on the Thai border.

From Huayxai we got a slow boat for 2 days down the Mekong river to Luang Prabang (Laos' second city). When we got on the boat we found more westerners than we'd seen in one place in our whole entire trip - there were about 40 of us. The scenery was beautiful. We arrived in Luang Prabang the following evening after an overnight stay in Pakbeng (the slow boats don't travel at night). Luang Prabang was a nice town to chill out in for a couple of days with some good cheap street food stalls. We visited Kuang Si waterfalls nearby on our last day, the waterfall itself was pretty impressive but there were also lovely clear lagoon pools to swim in. We found one near the top of the waterfall where you could swim up to the edge of the pool and actually look out over the waterfall going down. That night we got a bus to Phongsali.

Phongsali is way up in the North of Laos, a pretty big deviation from our route which had taken us down South a bit and it didn't make loads of sense to go back up North but we had heard good things about Phongsali and were quite keen to escape the hoards of tourists that we had come across! The bus journey took 20 hours in a clamped out old local bus and involved a flat tyre, but it wasn't too bad as we were pretty much the only passengers so there was plenty of room! Phongsali was as we had hoped - very quiet and barely any tourists (I think there were 5 of us in the whole town). It's quite high up in the hills and so it was cooler than the rest of Laos that we'd seen. We had a good couple of days walking around the area before heading to Hatsa, just 25km away but it took 90 minutes in a tuk tuk full of lots of wood and beerlao and not many passengers.

We had already been warned by an American ex-marine that we had met that Hatsa was pretty basic in terms of accommodation. There was just the one guesthouse run by an old lady who showed us to a wooden room with some sheets on the floor and a mosquito net, she didn't speak any English but was able to mime to us that for toilet and washing we must use the river. There weren't really any restaurants either - we ate instant noodle soup for lunch, dinner and breakfast! We got a 6 hour boat down the river to Muang Khua the next morning and then a bus from Muang Khua to Oudomxai which is not much more than a transport hub, we didn't venture far from the bus station (our guesthouse was right across the road) but we had some good barbecue chicken and sticky rice for dinner with some other travellers we'd met.

From Oudomxai we got a bus to Nongkhiaw, a village on the Nam Ou river, where we found a bamboo hut to stay in that had a hammock on the porch that looked out over the river with the limestone mountains behind. It was very peaceful and beautiful and the river was good for swimming in with the local kids. We visited a big cave where the villagers had lived for some time in order to shelter from bombs in the war. Two local boys took us to see some caves further on, but these weren't as good and we picked up several leeches on the way! By this point we had entered rainy season so there were thunderstorms and downpours every day, but they didn't really stop us doing anything as they normally only lasted a couple of hours and tended to be in the late afternoon and at night. We still had to wear plenty of suncream!

We moved on to Vang Viang, a traveller hotspot. Here we rented a bike and went to see a big cave that turned out to be 7km long, but our headtorch batteries didn't take us very far in! It also had a lovely clear lagoon to swim in. We also went tubing down the river. There are many bars along the way to stop for some drinks which have high up trapezes and zip wires into the river, made by the locals and could only be allowed in a place like Laos! Eddie pretty much tried them all, including a big waterslide at the end. It wasn't far from Vang Viang to Vientiane, the capital. Its a nice quiet capital city as capital cities go but we didn't want to spend much time in cities. We ended up staying 2 nights in order to get our Thai visa. They were giving 2 month visas out for free at the time which worked out much better than buying the visa on the border as you can only get a 15 day visa this way.

As soon as we got our visas we headed down South by night bus to the 4000 islands in the Mekong. We got a boat to an island called Don Det that was popular with backpackers and had a nice chilled out atmosphere. We stayed in a bamboo hut with hammocks and an awesome view over the river. We went walking and hired bikes to explore the island and a neighbouring island, Don Khon, that was joined by a bridge. We saw the biggest waterfalls in Asia here and also half heartedly tried to see some freshwater dolphins but to no avail (we werent too fussed as we had seen them in the Ganges). After a couple of days we headed off to Thailand (the Thai border was not far away) to meet some of Alice's friends from home in Bangkok who'd flown out for 2 weeks for a holiday.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Shanghai to the Laos border

We landed in Shanghai on the 4th April. It was good to be back in China where everything was cheap again! Eddie's friend Si has moved out to Shanghai so we spent a few days there. It was a well developed city with lots of impressive skyscrapers that looked amazing at night.

After a few days we headed down to Yangshuo in the South of China, which involved a 24 hour train journey. It was a much more comfortable experience than the Indian trains but a lot more expensive! We met up with Si and stayed in a village 27km out of Yangshuo (which is pretty full of tourists) called XingPing. It was very beautiful scenery around there as there are lots of limestone karsts and a big river which made for some good views, especially from the top of a limestone hill close to our hostel, which we ended up climbing 3 times in the hope of a good sunrise and sunset. We also visited a local fishing village a little way down the river. It was good to travel with Si, especially because he spoke Mandarin which meant that we could order the food we wanted!

We got a night train from there to Kunming in the Yunnan province. By this time we had both got sick again, but made it from Kunming up to Lijiang (a pretty old town, despite all the tourists) where we spent a couple of days recovering before heading off to do the Tiger Leaping Gorge trek with 3 other travellers we had met in our guesthouse. The Tiger Leaping Gorge is a pretty deep gorge (apparently one of the biggest in the world!) and it made for some spectacular scenery. Not many people actually trek all the way along it (it seems to be a Western tourist rather than a Chinese tourist thing to do!) so it was nice and quiet when we were walking. We got dropped off at the start and walked for 7 hours before reaching the guesthouse we were aiming for, which was nearly at the other end of the gorge. We had a good evening after the long day's walking with some local beer and good cheap food. The next morning we climbed down the gorge to the rock onto which a tiger allegedly once leapt, although the sheer rock face on the other side made this seem pretty dubious! Also the river at the bottom of the gorge was fairly wide, even for a tiger!

Back in Lijiang we headed down to Dali, another pretty but less touristy old town where we hired bikes and cycled round the local villages. We got a night bus from here South to Jinghong in the tropical Xishuangbanna region. Jinghong was our hottest place on the trip so far. It was once covered in rainforest but unfortunately most of this has now been chopped down to make way for rubber farms. Luckily we found a hotel with a swimming pool that non guests could pay to use (we were staying in some less fancy cockroach infested bamboo huts). From Jinghong we travelled to Mengla where we stayed overnight before crossing the border into Laos.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009


We had known that Japan would be very expensive so we planned to spend only 2 weeks there. After all of our cheap travelling in the developing world the prices came as a bit of a shock! But Japan was a cool place to see and very safe and easy to travel in.

When we arrived in Tokyo we were outraged at having to spend over 7 pounds each to get a train from the airport to the city centre close to the hostel we had booked. The same amount would have got both of us a night train sleeper ticket in India covering hundreds of miles! And the hostel was also expensive, but very well equipped and we were able to cook dinner there so this saved us some money! Tokyo was a cool city. All the houses were very nice and the streets were all quite quiet even though they were busy. The weather in Japan was pretty cold and often rainy.

We spent a few days exploring Tokyo. One morning we got up early for the fish market which was pretty fun to walk around, although we couldn't afford any of the very fresh sushi! We also visited some big shopping districts, some temples, the red light district and the Sony building where all the latest sony technology is displayed. From Tokyo we got a night bus to Kyoto. As the travel is expensive in Japan we had decided not to try and travel too far, and this was our longest journey costing us nearly 60 pounds each! The bus was pretty luxurious though with airline style seats but lots more leg room than an aeroplane and with complimentary slippers! It was a very smooth journey and we didn't sleep too badly.

Our hostel in Kyoto was not as good as the one in Tokyo, it had a very friendly owner but he had a very loud voice and there was not much in the way of kitchen and bathroom facilities. Eddie had a 'clever' plan for cooking us some noodles on the first night with some hot water and a microwave. Needless to say it didn't taste very good (it was barely edible), but it didn't make us ill! Kyoto was a nice city with a lot of temples. They were very nice but there were so many of them! We were in Japan at the blossom time of year which is very popular with the Japanese and you rarely see a tree in blossom without a Japanese person (or several) posing for a photo in front of it! It was very beautiful though. We had a good day trip out to a village in the mountains just outside of Kyoto which was very pretty. We also visited an onsen, the Japanese baths. There are lots of hot springs in Japan and therefore lots of onsen. We went to an indoor onsen as it was cheaper than an outdoor one which would probably have been very beautiful! Men and womens baths are separate and everyone has to go naked. There were several different baths, including an indoor one, an outdoor one, a cold one, a herbal one and a sauna. It was relaxing but very hot!

After Kyoto we took a short train to Nara. Our day in Nara was our only sunny day in Japan, but it was the perfect day for sunshine as we were wandering around a big park with many temples and also many deer! We had a good picnic Sushi lunch as well. From Nara we headed to Osaka (where we were flying out of). Osaka was quite different to the other places we had seen, a big working city with not so much in the way of temples which was quite refreshing. We stayed in a cheap hotel (by Japanese standards) in a fairly seedy area opposite a homeless shelter. Our room consisted of a big tatami mat and two flat mattresses and bedding. There weren't showers but a men's bath and a women's bath which were very similar to the onsen, and were only open for 5 hours a day in the evening. There was no option for cooking here so we finally did some eating out. The first night we went to a sushi place, one where the fish comes round on a conveyor belt in front of you. We managed to eat quite a lot of raw fish (some of it nice, some not!) for not too much money. Osaka had some exciting areas to explore at night with lots of shops and restaurants and very busy with people.

On our last day we got a rail pass for the day and went to Himeji, a town with a famous castle and some nice gardens surrounding it. From here we took a train to Kobe, a seaside city. It was very different to English seaside, with lots of big skyscrapers next to the sea, but it was nice to see the sea. We got a train back to Osaka and then another to the airport. Our flight wasn't until the following morning but as accommodation was so expensive and our flight would have meant an early start anyway, we thought we would save some money by sleeping in the airport! It was a fairly comfortable nights sleep, not quite as nice as Hong Kong airport though and we were disturbed by the police asking to check our passports! The next morning we flew to Shanghai.

Sichuan, China

We spent 3 days in Chengdu, where we had flown into before heading to Emei Shan. This is a Buddhist mountain about a 2 hour bus ride away. We left most of our stuff at the hostel in Chengdu so that we could trek up the mountain without too much baggage. We arrived at the bottom of the mountain at lunchtime and grabbed a bowl of cheap noodles and headed up the mountain. It was pretty different to the trekking in Nepal - it was a very popular tourist attraction and well-walked, you could even get buses or the cable car up and down. This meant that the route was very well looked after, and there were even steps (which were swept daily) the whole way up. This also made the walking quite monotonous!

On the first afternoon we set off at 2pm. On the way we met a Chinese guy, Hu, who was trekking with 5 of his mates from uni. We ended up staying in the same hotel as them which was very helpful as they were able to bargain the room price for us. As it was out of season, we were able to get a room for much less than half price. That night we paid 4.50 pounds each for a room much more lavish than any other place we have stayed in while travelling. It had a big tv and bathroom, two big beds, armchairs and our own slippers! It was in a beautiful little place called Qingyan which surrounds a lake. It was good to finally experience some Chinese countryside. We ate a big meal, ordered by the students, which was really good as normally we can't understand enough of the menu to order anything interesting. They ordered 9 different dishes for the 8 of us, so it was nice to eat Chinese food with the Chinese.

The next morning we set off at about 8am. We had a lot of kilometres of steps (apparently 30km) to cover if we were going to make it to the top before dark. We left our Chinese friends in the monkey feeding area (we aren't too keen on monkeys!) and walked up and up, past several temples. By 3pm we were only 2-3 hours from the top. At this point, above 2500m, it got snowy and icy which made the steps very slippy. We made it up by about 5pm though but found we were in clouds and couldn't see a thing of the Golden Temple and giant statue at the top even when we were stood right in front of them! We had hoped to be able to stay in the monastery at the top, but it was not open out of season so we had to find a hotel. Luckily we were able to bargain (via calculator) with the Chinese owners to get a cheap room.

The sunrise at the summit is supposed to be very beautiful and many travel a long way to see it. Unfortunately when we woke up in the morning, the top of the mountain was still covered by cloud and we could barely see a few feet in front of us. We had a quick noodle soup and some steamed buns and started down as we hoped to get down in 1 day. It was even more slippery on the way down so Alice put Ed's socks (learned from Bear Grylls!) over her walking boots to keep from sliding around too much. Despite the weather there were still many Chinese tourists trying to make it up the mountain. We walked without stopping even for lunch and made it back down by about 5pm.

The next day we got a bus with some other travellers to Leshan where the world's biggest Buddha statue is. It was fairly impressive, but the entrance fee was quite high. We spent a few hours wandering around it before getting another bus back to Chengdu. We were pretty tired after the trek and spent a day chilling out and planning where to head next. With only a few days left before our flight to Tokyo we decided to go to Chongqing , where our flight left from. This meant Eddie had to make a late night trip to the train station to buy our tickets for the next morning.

Hu, the Chinese student we had met on Emei Shan happened to be in the same carriage as us on the train which made the journey pass more quickly! Chongqing is a massive city which has had a lot of money pumped into it recently in order to develop it. This meant that there were loads of big new skyscrapers next to old and dilapidated flats, which was an interesting contrast. We found the city fascinating, there was a lot more going on than in Chengdu. It is built at the meeting of 3 rivers and our hostel looked out over the river which made for a good view at night when the skyscrapers and boats on the river were all lit up. There was plenty in Chongqing to keep us busy for a few days, exploring all the modern areas and also the older ones, we did a lot of walking! Hotpot is a local speciality in Sichuan, and Hu had told us that the hotpot in Chongqing was even hotter than in Chengdu and was so hot that he himself, a local and a big fan of hot food, could hardly bear it! We weren't too enthused by this but we thought we should try it one night and found a cheap looking place. We chose our raw meat and veg plates and then we put the raw food into a big heated chilli oil pot in the middle of our table. It was so hot we had to drink a lot of beer with it to cool our mouths down, and even an ice cream after didn't help much. It was nice, but we didn't try it again!

We flew out of Chongqing to Hong Kong where we stayed overnight (again!) before flying to Tokyo the next morning.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Nepal to India to China

After trekking we spent almost a week chilling out in Pokhara, seeing a few sights, eating A LOT of good cheap food, especially Tibetan, we even managed to watch a few premiership games on tv. We had to leave eventually though and headed to Delhi for our flight to China. It was an eventful journey lasting 36 hours and using various modes of transport. The first bus we caught to the border stopped 25km from the border and wouldn't take us any further as there were demonstrations on the road ahead and the bus driver explained that we would be pelted with rocks if we continued! No vehicles were going through for this reason, so our only option was a cycle rickshaw, which meant some poor guy had to cycle both of us and all our luggage the whole 25km to the border. We didn't feel too sorry for him by the end though because he kept trying to get more money out of us! We had 1 of our worst bus journeys 90km from the border to a train station, crammed full of people, elbows everywhere, no leg room and it stank - we were definitely back in India. Livestock travel in more comfort, but its all part of the fun. And we then experienced one of our favourite parts of India with some cheap and very tasty curry with an American couple we had met. Then we got the 16 hour night train to Delhi, filled with all the magic of Indian rail travel, and we only arrived half an hour late! We got the metro to the area where we stayed. The metro system was quite unlike the India we know - clean, efficient, quiet, cool and beggar and streetseller-free!

Delhi wasn't initially as bad as we had been led to believe by other travellers (the reason we had left it out originally). But with a mild case of Delhi belly, the heat, and the hassle from Indian men Alice was soon pretty glad to be leaving India behind! We did some sights in New Delhi including Humayan's Tomb and Connaught Place (which had a McDonalds and a KFC, normally this would have been avoided but Alice's Delhi belly meant we "had" to go (to both)). The following day we went to Old Delhi which was a good contrast but very busy and chaotic, especially around the mosque which had some sort of mass angry gathering going on outside (Alice's opinion). We then went to Gandhi's memorial park which was really nice, quiet and peaceful, and then walked up round the bazaars.

We flew from Delhi airport to Hongkong where we stayed overnight on the airport floor. The flight was good, we were able to ask for as much food and drink as we liked - making the most of our expensive flight tickets! This morning we flew from Hongkong to Chengdu. China felt very different to India, cleaner and colder, no hassle and very little English. We weren't offered a taxi or a hotel once! But we managed to navigate ourselves onto a bus to the city centre and then walked for 2 hours through the modern feeling city with skyscrapers and a lively square in the middle of the city overlooked by a statue of Mao. The hostel we were looking for had closed down and moved and took some finding and asking of non-English speaking Chinese people who tried to point us in the right way. Things were made more difficult by the fact that Chinese road names make no sense and often change for no reason, and neither of us had any idea about Chinese characters, let alone being able to tell them apart in our tired state. But Sim's Cozy Garden Hostel was well worth the search, very cheap with good facilities, even a snooker table and homemade gym! We have also had some pretty awesome food, even if it is a bit of a lucky dip as to what you might get. Everything we have tried so far has been really good. The beer is also finally getting cheaper with the local Tsingtao lager which is pretty good. We spend 2 weeks in Sichuan before we fly to Japan.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

The Annapurna Circuit

The main tourist attraction in Nepal is the trekking routes in the Himilayas. We chose to do the Annapurna circuit, we had originally thought that we wouldn't be able to as it is often closed due to snow at this time of year, but luckily for us (due to global warming!) the pass was open. It's a 2-3 week trek that has lots of varied scenery and culture. We considered getting a guide as it is recommended, but due to our budget and not wanting the company of a guide, we decided to go independently, and not take a porter to carry our stuff either.

We set off on an early morning bus to Besi Sahar at the start of the trek. There is a new jeep track that is being built down the valley so we could have taken a bus to the next settlement, but we decided to walk it instead, it was only 9km. The first part of the trek was ascending towards the world's highest pass. It mainly followed a river through a valley and we stayed in various villages along the way in basic teahouses. As it was out of season there were very few other tourists trekking (especially on this side of the pass). But there were a couple of groups whose paths we crossed throughout the trek which was nice for the company. As it was so quiet we were quite often the only guests in the teahouses. The rooms are generally cheap but this is because you are expected to eat there and meals were relatively expensive compared to down the mountain. We mostly ate daal bhat, the local dinner of lentil soup, veg curry and rice, this was mainly because it was a cheap option and you got a second helping, or sometimes thirds! In one lodge we got invited to join the family who owned the teahouse and eat in the kitchen (wooden shack) with them as it was so cold which was a really nice experience. The rooms were basic, normally just 2 beds and no furniture. Sometimes they had electricity, sometimes not. Sometimes there was a solar shower with warm water (if it had been very sunny), other times it was just a cold bucket.

On the way up towards the pass the scenery gradually got more barren. There were some very impressive mountains to be seen, including some of the highest peaks in the world. After 5 days of walking we had reached a height of 3500m and had to take a day off to acclimatise in Menang. It was then slow progress up to the pass as it is not far but it is not advised to ascend too far in one day if you are going to spend the night there due to the high possibility of getting Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) which can be fatal.

It took 2 more days to get to Thorung Phedi from where you go over the pass. We set off from here at 6.15am in order to cross the pass before the winds get too strong. It was a pretty tough ascent, climbing from 4400m to 5416m, made much tougher by the altitude which meant you were always out of breath even on the gentlest of slopes. We made it to the top in about 3 and a half hours and then had a 1700m descent (which we hurried through due to the altitude induced headache!).

The walking on the other side of the pass was mostly downhill now. The scenery was quite different and as we had now joined the route of the Jomsom trek it was more touristy. There was also (unfortunately) a jeep track all the way up, so there was not so much walking on trails as we had had before. We pushed on, walking over 20km a day. We stayed in some nice villages along the way, the food was a bit cheaper on this side. We got to a place called Tatopani after 3 days. They had some natural hot springs here which was just what was needed, especially as they served cold beer while you relaxed. From Tatopani we could have walked just one more day to finish the trek, but we decided to do an extra day which involved a gruelling ascent of over 1500m to a place called Ghorepani. It was a tough day, made tougher by the heat and also Alice hurting her achilles, so Ed had to carry quite a lot of her stuff as well. But we got there in good time to find Hotel Superview which really did have a phenomenal view of some of the biggest mountains in the Himilayas, for 50p each after bargaining!

We got up at 5am the next morning to walk up to Poon Hill (with a good crowd of other tourists) which is 45 minutes uphill to watch the sunrise over the mountains. This was a really nice way to start our last day of trekking. We had a porridge and headed down the mountain. It was another long day's walk but we made it down by 2.30pm and were bundled straight onto a bus (dripping sweat over all the unimpressed locals) to get back to Pokhara, where we are now chilling out for a few days, enjoying the sun, resting our bodies, and eating absolutely loads of cheap food before we head to Delhi and fly from there to China.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Darjeeling to Pokhara

We spent 2 days travelling from India to Nepal, staying in a small Nepalese town on the border overnight before a long (17 hour) bus journey to Kathmandu, slightly hairy and involving a long walk with all our stuff over a bamboo bridge, but with amazing views. We spent 4 days chilling out and trying to sort out trekking permits, visa extensions, flights etc in Kathmandu. British Airways held us up from our original plan to trek last week, so we headed to Pokhara (another popular town near the trekking route) in the meantime.

Pokhara is a beautiful place, set on a lake, surrounded by hills with the snowy peaks of the massive Himalayas reflected in the lake. So its a really nice place to chill out (and spend Alice's birthday!). We took a boat out on the lake in the pitch black at 5.30 on our first morning to watch the sunrise. It was definitely worth the effort, absolutely magical, and worth all the paddling in the end. Yesterday we walked up to the world peace pagoda, a big buddhist stupa up a hill for some more amazing views. Today we went paragliding from a high hilltop, it was an awesome experience with views up at the Himilayas and over the lake.

Our flights are finally sorted (no thanks to British Airways but a big thanks to STA!) so we finally leave for trekking in the morning. We are doing the Annapurna circuit, which takes about 3 weeks. Its a pretty well-walked and popular trail so we decided not to bother with a guide, and this is much cheaper! Its supposed to be a really good trek with good scenery and culture as well as reaching an altitude of about 5500m. Luckily the hotel is allowing us to leave a bit of our stuff behind so we don't have to carry all of it. Will let you know how we get on!

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Pushkar to Darjeeling

We got a (chaotic) night bus from Pushkar to Agra, arriving at 5.30am. There was some sort of mix up with our ticket which meant that we ended up in a single berth sleeper for 9 hours with all of our luggage! We dropped our bags at the left luggage office at the station and headed straight to the Taj Mahal for sunrise. Even though its so visited and we felt almost obliged to go, the Taj was breathtaking and well worth the visit. The rest of Agra didn't have much to offer us, it was pretty filfthy and polluted!

That night we got a night train to Varanasi. We stayed here 4 nights. It was a very interesting city, still very busy but built along the Ganges. There are ghats all the way along that pilgrims come to and bathe at, the Ganges water is thought to be very holy, even if it is heavily polluted, they still use it for everything, including drinking, laundry, scattering ashes (sometimes whole bodies) and washing buffaloes! This makes the ghats really interesting to wander and to watch the goings on, especially early in the morning with sunrise. You can really feel how spiritual the place is, even as an outsider. It is definitely one of the more relaxing place we have visited in India. There was a ceremony with lights and music every evening and one evening we took a boat down the river at sunset and lit lotus flowers on the river (trying not to touch any water!). We stayed slightly longer than planned because Alice got sick, but it only lasted 24 hours.

We got a night train from Varanasi to Siliguri in the West Bengal Hills. The train was delayed by 4 hours before we got on it, and we arrived into Siliguri 6 hours later than scheduled. We were pretty knackered after 24 hours of travelling but found a jeep with some Canadians we had been travelling with up to Darjeeling (3 hours away). Due to our train being delayed this meant we didn't arrive in Darjeeling until 11pm and by this time everything was shut. Luckily our jeep driver had a friend with a hotel which turned out to be pretty nice, with wood lined rooms and balcony and hot shower (when requested) for 2.50 each which isnt too bad.

Darjeeling felt like another country with much cooler (often very cold!) weather and no autorickshaws and the people look very different (lots are from Tibet and Nepal) and are much friendlier and give you much less hassle than in all other parts of India we have visited. It has also been very nice to be up in the mountains (Darjeeling is at 2300m) even if clouds obscure most of the views, and to be in the home of tea. This morning we even got up at 4.30 am to get a taxi with an Aussie guy up to Tiger Hill where you can watch the sunrise from a high point looking out over the Himalayas, including Everest and Khanchenjunga, the 3rd highest peak in the world. Unfortunately it was very cloudy but we did manage to see the very top of Khanchenjunga above the clouds, and may have seen Everest but it was probably just a big cloud. It's been nice to explore Darjeeling. The tea is good, we wandered through a plantation, although it wasn't picking season. The food is quite different here but again very tasty!

We head to Nepal tomorrow, taking various jeeps and buses (maybe even a ferry due to bridge damage) to cross the border and get to Kathmandu. It will probably be quite a long journey and Nepal night buses don't have the best reputation for safety but hopefully it will all be worth it!

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Udaipur to Pushkar

We got a night bus from Udaipur to Jodhpur. The bus was an experience! We had a sleeping compartment so we were being thrown around with all our luggage at every pothole (of which there are many on Indian roads!). We got chucked off the bus at 4.45 am in Jodhpur with nowhere booked to stay and 4 tuk tuk drivers shouting at us to give us a ride. So we got dropped off at the clock tower and then walked through the dark, eery streets, empty except for the stray dogs and cows looking for a suitably cheap hotel. Unsurprisingly everywhere was shut! after about an hour we had managed to find our way into the old town and found a hotel that was letting people out so we were able to get in.

Jodhpur wasn't as touristy as we had expected, the guest house owner told us that they were suffering since the mumbai attacks. We had one night in Jodhpur, it was an interesting place to explore with vibrant markets and an impressive fort, but we (mainly Alice!) weren't feeling too great! We got a night train out of Jodhpur to Jaisalmer - the desert! We were picked up from the station by the hotel people and crammed into a jeep. It wasn't very big and there were 10 passengers, one was even hanging off the back. Our luggage was thrown on the roof. After a good sleep we were persuaded to take a camel safari. We had originally decided to wait until Bikaner to do this, but the half day trek running from our hotel that afternoon sounded like exactly what we wanted.

We were driven out to the desert in a jeep and stopped at a couple of local shools and villages on the way. The benefit of being in the jeep was that you could get far away from all the touristy places. We were dropped off by some camels (we were with an Aussie couple and a Dutch girl as well) and we rode for an hour and a half through the desert scrubs and dunes. It was fun but a bit bumpy and neither of us were envious of the people who had booked 7 days on a camel trek! We stopped at some secuded dunes for sunset. It was very peaceful and beautiful, and nice to be away from other people! we had dinner cooked for us and we ate round a camp fire before we were driven back to the hotel. It was a lovely evening.

The next day we explored Jaisalmer and its fort before heading on another night train to Bikaner, also in the desert but further north. The train was freezing, the desert was hot in the day but very cold at night. We stayed in a very nice hotel in Bikaner. On the first day we checked out the town and the old city and ate some good and different street food (which may have been the cause of our illness a couple of days later - but it tasted good!). The next day we followed Eddie's wishes and took a bus 30km to Karni Mata temple, famous because it is full of rats. They are looked after and encouraged as it is thought that a God called Yama had turned the storytellers into rats. Unfortunately, as it was a temple, you still had to take your shoes off, and walk amidst the rats and their droppings. and there were a lot of rats! luckily, admission was free. We got the bus back and went to the fort in Bikaner, and had a yummy dinner at a streetside restaurant.

We got another night train from Bikaner to Jaipur. We then got a train (3 hours) from Jaipur to Ajmer and got a local (very crowded) bus to Pushkar, a Hindu holy pilgrim town. By this time the food we had eaten had caught up with us (in particular Eddie!) and we ended up staying here for 4 nights, twice as long as we had planned. The town is fairly peaceful though, and tuk tuk free! Its in the mountains so the surroundings are beautiful. On the 2nd day we climbed a big hill/ mountain to visit a temple. We nearly didn't make it up due to a particularly vicious monkey and when we did make it up we didn't stay long due to Eddie's nausea. The next couple of days were fairly chilled out while we had some recovery time, but we think we are over the worst now. We get a night bus to Agra tomorrow to see the Taj Mahal and then a night train on to Varanasi.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Mumbai to Udaipur

We've been in India for a week now and it still seems as chaotic as when we first landed. We were jammy enough to get our flight upgraded twice so we were flying business class with our club world bed seats, complimentary champagne, wine, smoothies, unlimited use of the club world kitchen, and 3 course meal etc. Not a bad way to start and at least we weren't too sleepy when we arrived in Mumbai.

Mumbai was a great way to start in India. It was much hotter than we thought it would be in Winter - close to 30 degrees. We had a nice but basic hotel 2 minutes from the Taj Mahal palace, where the terrorists attacked, it is a very nice building but now surrounded by armed police and still not fully open. Unfortunately it was still popular enough not to be offering rooms out cheaply! We had a few days wondering around and exploring the city. Can't believe how good the food is here - and so cheap too. Mumbai started to get a bit tiring as its such a big city and wherever you walked you were constantly being hassled by street sellers and followed by beggars (but spose this is just part of Indian life, especially in tourist areas). Highlights of Mumbai were: walking along Chowpatty beach at sunset, banganga(?!) tank a pedestrian area with temples and very few tourists, very serene!, elephanta island which we got a boat out too and then walked around caves with carved pillars and statues. And of course the food.

From Mumbai we got a night train to Ahmedabad. There weren't any seats available in any of the air conditioned coaches so we had sleeper class tickets which was good because you get to travel with just locals and the Indian train service is a very interesting experience. Ahmedabad wasn't the nicest of places! We had to book into a really cheap hotel in order to leave our bags somewhere for the day. It was pretty horrible, Alice would have cried if we had to stay there overnight! One good part of Ahmedabad was Ghandi's ashram, a really interesting place, Ed's got a new hero! As one of the men sitting outside told us: there's nothing to see in Ahmedabad!

We got a night train out of Ahmedabad to Udaipur. A guy on the train told us it was Asia's third most beautiful city. Don't know if that is true but if it is we can understand why. There's a lake with a couple of islands with palaces (1 of which has been turned into a luxury hotel where part of Octopussy was filmed - Udaipur's claim to fame!) in it, and lots of palaces and temples throughout the city. It is a lot more relaxing than Mumbai or Ahmedabad but it is very touristy, but only really in the central area. We went for a walk to look for a local place to eat away from all the tourists. It took some finding through the narrow streets with street names all in Hindi and narrowly avoiding being hit by tuk tuks and mopeds, but the food was really good. We had thali which is an Indian all you can eat meal, for 70 pence!

We head to Jodhpur by night bus tomorrow (sadly no trains do this route!).