The Towers of PAIN! (Hello Jeff)

This is Jeff. He’s great.

Jeff

An actor in New York City, he has been seen on stage in Two Sisters, Two Brothers at the Theater for the New City and on TV recently in Blue Bloods. We think he’s pretty awesome.

While we lived in NYC he also spent a little time as our personal trainer, helping me and Lucy get fit. Known as the silent assassin, he is the very antithesis of the needlessly bouncy and aggravating personal trainers that we all hate – you know the sort. And he may not know this, but he has been helping us keep fit on the road as well. You see, he has given his name (certainly unwittingly, but hopefully not unwillingly) to something that Lucy and I call the “Jeff Equivalent”.

When we set out on our trip, we were choosing to indulge heavily in the greatest luxury of all, which is of course time. Time to see the world, time to read, time to sleep, time to spend with each other. And, incidentally, time to be healthy, eat well and be generally fit. This has resulted in some great meals, a few truly spectacular runs in strange places and the occasional yoga / pilates session in beautiful settings or when the hotel gym has looked unappetizing (incidentally, yoga below decks while sailing the Drake Passage? NOT to be recommended!). More recently, it has also resulted in some truly spectacular amounts of hiking. Christmas was pretty punishing from a fitness perspective, provided you consider great wine, home cooked food and CAKE punishing. Anyhow, Lucy and I decided that we wanted to get back in shape for spring (or summer, or winter for that matter – quite frankly this itinerary changes seasons on us about once a fortnight). And so we took ourselves to the Torres del Paine national park in Chile for some serious “Jeff Equivalents”.

Perhaps we should explain. When I used to “get Jeffed”, the poor man had to put up with me cursing, stamping my feet and (once or twice) giving up half way through and going home for a beer and a sulk. Lucy had more grit than I did, but occasionally post-Jeffing she had to be physically helped from the apartment door to the sofa and fed orange juice until she perked up enough for a whisky sour. It was extremely good for us, but Jeff unfortunately doesn’t fit into a rucksack, so on the road the “Jeff Equivalent” is the amount of exercise scientifically calibrated to be exactly equivalent to one hour of being beasted in the gym by Jeff – we worked this out one lazy day to be roughly equivalent to two hours of hiking up a hill (or four hours of sightseeing, or something – it all gets pretty rule-of-thumby at this point).

And boy, did the Torres del Paine deliver. A huge and unique rock formation crowded up against the side of the Andes, it is a spectacular setting for some truly world class hiking. We trekked a trail called “The W” which took us five days through awe-inspiring glacial scenery – bright green lakes, windswept mountains and rivers of ice. We slept ten-plus blissful hours a night in cabanas and posh dormitory-style refuges. We ate huge sandwiches and chocolate bars in rugged picnic spots half way up mountains. We oohed and we ahhed, and it was lovely.

Oh yes, we also managed to cram in about 18 Jeff Equivalents – yup, that’s about 36 hours of yomping (or about 18,000 calories, if you choose to look at life that way, which we tend not to). Next stop Mendoza, for some serious and restitutive wine tasting and steak!

Merry Christmas, Everyone!!

Finest Christmas song. Ever.

Yep, I know we’re a little late on this one….

It’s been a really long time since we put – ummm – finger to keyboard. 3 whole weeks in fact. Do I apologise? Beg pardon for the inexcusable absence for your otherwise (obviously) unfulfilled lives?

No, of course not. We have both spent a very lovely – and very separate (which was surprisingly strange, having spent most of the past 7 months within eye- and ear- shot of each other) Christmas at home, eating, drinking and otherwise making merry with the family. New Year was a little quieter, with the two of us once more together, and, more importantly, in the company of both Big Ben and the awesome NYE fireworks. It was a fantastic reminder of everything we have to look forward to once our trip is over and we settle back down into real life again.

But fun as it was, Christmas wasn’t really a time for blogging for us (James blames the fact that after so much booze he could barely make out the shape of the keyboard, never mind the keys. I blame the fact that I had more important stuff on. Like building Mega Marble Runs. Yeah!!). Which has us now – sat in an AMAZING estancia in Argentina with hot and cold running gauchos – in the slightly weird situation of having to exercise those flabby new year brain muscles into remembering what we were actually up to pre Christmas and even (bored teenager yawn) making the effort to write about it!

There have definitely been less interesting starts to a year.

Which makes sense, since this year promises to be anything but dull – a move back to London, a new apartment to find, new jobs (hopefully) for both of us and the tiny matter of a small party (with associated matrimonials) to organize. PLUS before we even get to any of that, more travel, including a little jaunt to Antarctica.

Life’s tough. We can’t wait.

Wherever you are, whatever you’re up to, here’s hoping we all have a fantastic 2013.

See you all soon.
xxxx

Lucy & James Go Luxury (Hello Stuart & Sarah!!)

[By the way, you're hearing a lot from me at the moment as James is rather unwell. Send him a big electronic get-well hug!!]

Regular readers of our blog (all 2 of them – hi Mum & Dad!) will recall that we had set off from Lhasa armed with a small army’s worth of deluxe camping related gear, only to be turned back from our (eagerly) anticipated hiking route by the Chinese authorities.

Close observers may also have drawn the conclusion that our trip has, as of late, been long on adventure and perhaps a tad short on luxury.

Anyone spotting a perfect solution here??

Yes, that’s right. Before sending our cook back to Lhasa with all our associated camping paraphernalia, we decided we may as well use the stuff, if only for a night, and indulge in some luxury camping. Well, pretty luxury. I mean, the campsite we chose happened to have a fair amount of rubbish and broken glass lying round, but we picked most of it up.

What do we mean by luxury?

Well, for starters we had our own cook. I mean that’s not bad is it. Particularly when the cook is equipped with a cook tent, wok, army sized kettle and one ferocious propane burner. Even more so when said cook turns out to be a master-chef, especially of tasty stir fried vegetables – in a country where we’d basically been on a meat-only diet for the last week. Sitting on a camping mattress, eating our tasty stir fry whilst the propane burner kept us toasty (toasted?), life felt pretty darned good.

The cook.  And his tent.  And burner.  I might be in love

The cook. And his tent. And burner. I might be in love

And then there was the view. As the mastercard ad says, priceless.

Luxury bedding? Check. Mattresses so big and fat that I didn’t end up with bruised hips. TWO sleeping bags (try it. It’s AWESOME!!!!!!). One of those old fashioned tents you can actually stand up in. We were snug as bugs in rugs. Two rugs, to be precise.

Luxury camping toilets? Hmmm. Ok, you got me on that one but frankly, Tibetan toilets are revolting and I’d rather pee au naturel anyway.

So naturally, in the midst of all this extravagant luxuriousness, our thoughts turned to friends far away. In particular those friends who think we’re mad as hatters to be doing this kind of trip at our age (I mean really, we’ve no excuse). Stuart and Sarah may travel in SLIGHTLY more style than we have been of late, but hopefully they appreciate the effort we made here. Guys, you’ve won two new converts to the high class travel life. All we need now is more champagne.

Happy campers!!

Happy campers!!

Decisions, Decisions (Hello Jamie!)

This is Jamie. He is awesome.

One of my oldest friends, Jamie is now a semi-professional explorer with a ground-breaking business bringing expeditions to the classroom and vice versa. If you ever have a bad day at work and want to daydream about yomping off round the world, the page on his website showing current, past and future expeditions is guaranteed to put some tingling hairs on your chest. Or something. He also has a real beard. Did I mention the awesome?

Jamie is exactly the person you want on the end of the telephone when you have a Proper Travel Dilemma. Need to know what kind of satellite phone to take with you when you are off on a truly remote holiday tomorrow and an investment banking transaction is cratering around you? Call Jamie. Need to know somebody trustworthy in Antarctica with access to a ski-equipped plane? Call Jamie. Need to know how to tell your real Buddhist Thankas from your standard mass-produced rubbish? Call Jamie.

OK, so his advice is sometimes a little hardcore (regarding the Thankas, the answer is apparently to befriend an artist with careful inquisition about the monastery he was apprenticed to, and then commission him to paint one of that specific monastery’s patron deities, because that way you will get something both high quality and individual. Oh, and be sure to get the Thangka blessed by a high-ranking lama to make sure it attains proper religious object status). Regarding Antarctica, his advice was that the Argentine air force will fly you out in the back of a cargo plane if you hang around Ushuaia for long enough, and most expedition bases will be glad for the company if you kinda turn up on their doorstep. All, may I be the first to say, top quality and utterly correct advice, but enough to scare the pants off a wimpish ex-investment banker with a predilection for good coffee and high speed internet access

Anyway, I digress. As usual.

We are in Tibet, and we have just had THE quintessential Tibetan trekking experience. Namely, we have loaded up a Toyota Landcruiser to the gunwhales with food, tents, sleeping mats, propane, a cook, a driver and a guide; we have arranged for yak transport; we have painstakingly acclimatized ourselves to the altitude; we have bought copious amounts of warm clothing to cope with the oncoming winter at 5,000 metres; we have procured about half a dozen official permits, all stamped and signed; we have driven from Lhasa to the start of our carefully planned (and, although we don’t normally mention it, extremely expensive) trek, and … the f***ing Chinese have decided that because they are choosing their new leader in some stage-managed rubber stamp of a farrago five thousand miles away in Beijing it is too dangerous to allow any Westerners to contact village Tibetans (who don’t speak any English) and they have cancelled our permission to go. Boy we were mad.

So, we were offered another trek in a less arbitrarily politically sensitive area, but this one went higher, faster and colder than the one we had chosen. Winter is setting in, the high passes are getting hairy, and having climbed Kilimanjaro a few years ago I know that altitude sickness at 5,300 meters is seriously not something to play with. We have a very difficult decision to make, very quickly. So what to do? Call Jamie, of course!

As we are time zone constrained we text him, very briefly setting out the situation, the altitude and the trek our guides are now suggesting and asking him to call us when he wakes up. And what comes back is one of the finest text messages ever sent. I will repeat it here in its entirety so as not to dilute the epic Jamieness of it all:

“Did a similar ascent profile crossing into Zanskar. Had to organize casevac of member of another party back to Manali with AMS [Acute Mountain Sickness]. Also one pack horse slipped on snow and had to be killed. Um… Doable but may not be enjoyable”.

Wow.

We are grown ups and we know when discretion is the better part of valour. We cancelled the trek, we got some of our money back, and we set a course for Nepal. Jamie, we love you.

 

Hello Makaga!

Write a blog, they said (grumble grumble). Try to make it different, they said (grumble grumble). Engage with your audience, they said (grumble grumble).

Lucy and I decided a while ago that we would write the very occasional post to say hello to individual friends of ours that we are missing on the road, and we decided that it would be suitably arbitrary to address these to our most prolific blog commenters. Strange, I know, but roll with us here. So, with a grand total of five (hurrah), hello Matthew!

This is Matthew.

As you can tell, he is a bit of a creative genius. Product designer extraordinare, snappy dresser, burgenoning swing dancer and one half of the legendary Matthew and Michelle, he and she have livened up our New York nights out with their unique blend of style, panache and awesome outfits. Put simply, they rock.

But what can we do to pay homage to Matthew appropriately? Well, one of Matthew’s recent side projects was “April Neckwear”. Starting on the first of April, every day, for a full month (via Facebook) he did this:

It was great. We had serious tie envy. So, in honour of Matthew, we have decided to repeat April Neckwear, but amended slightly for our traveler status … and the fact that we aren’t exactly long on closet space in our rucksacks … and the fact that laundry day doesn’t come around too often. So, with apologies to Andy Warhol, here we go:

Matthew, mate, we miss you.