Japan: Prep

The excitement is building….. IJT’s InfoPack for their HYPERJAPAN J-Pop & Go! tour arrived today for Rosa’s 18th birthday trip – a manga / anime / J-pop themed tour of Japan – kawaii!!

It's here.... IJT's InfoPack for HYPERJAPAN J-Pop & Go!
IJT’s InfoPack for HYPERJAPAN J-Pop & Go!

There’s a map of Japan, a more detailed itinerary booklet with names, addresses and maps of each of the hotels. Our tour leader is Charlea Jefts and she will already be at our start hotel – the b ikebukuro – when we arrive, so we should be able to meet up with her to get tips on what to do on our two extra days at the start. Other than get through the jet lag.

Rosa and I spent a lovely afternoon looking through the trip itinerary and what we could do with our extra time, and talking through what to take. Here are the main things:

Money

The trip notes recommend taking ¥‎100,000 cash for a 2 week trip, for food, drinks and entrance fees (some are included, others aren’t, and we’ve got 2 extra days of Doing Things). That’s about £700, which works out at about £50 a day. We have to buy lunch and dinner most days.

So I’ll be keeping an eye on rates on offer at FairFX and Thomas Exchange Global.

I’m going to take some GBP in cash for emergency funds, and my debit/credit cards too.

Wifi/Internet

There’s wifi in most of the hotels and the tour leader has a portable wifi base station (might not be the right term but you know what I mean!) . That’ll do me.

Packing

There’s a packing list in the itinerary. The main things I’d not anticipated were:

  • long trousers & long sleeved top/light jumper – for air con train and restaurants
  • mosquitoes – so I’ll be packing mozzie repellent and take a vvv light long sleeved cotton top as cover up too
  • umbrella
  • overnight bag – our luggage gets forwarded twice, and we’ll need a small overnight bag for those nights. I’ve just treated myself to a navy SPAHER Ultra Lightweight Packable 20l Daypack courtesy of Amazon.
  • water bottle(s) – to avoid buying plastic bottles. I’m taking an empty 0.75l Volvic-type one. Maybe a couple.

My packing list for this trip is a bit different from the usual one!

We need to be able to carry our own luggage on/off public transport and from stations to hotels. I’m taking my 40l rucksack – last used in Libya – but then I do pack little and travel light.

A long weekend on Skye: The Caledonian Sleeper, Shorefield House, (Some) Sun and Strolls

Phil and I are back from a lovely few days on Skye. We caught the Caledonian Sleeper train up to Fort William, leaving London on Wednesday night and arriving Thursday morning, returning to London overnight Sunday/Monday.  We hired a car from Practical Rental – Fort William to get us to and around Skye.

Here’s what we did.

Wednesday 17 May 2017: London Euston – Caledonian Sleeper

A pre boarding glass of wine at Gino D’Acampo, then off to Platform 1 to walk the length of the train to find coach Y. Next time we’ll know that the old hands have their pre departure tipple in the dining coach… and that it’s a very, very long train.

As the train trundled north we settled in to our berths. A good night’s sleep.

Thursday 18 May 2017: Caledonian Sleeper – Fort William – Loch Lochy – Kintail – Dornie – Plockton – Broadford – Edinbane

Two cups of coffee and a pack of shortbread accompanied our wake up call at 8am as the 6 carriage train made its way through the Highlands. Green glens and hills gliding by, the gorse in bright yellow bloom, rivers and lochs and morning mists.

Caledonian Sleeper: looking back
Caledonian Sleeper: looking back

Our arrival into Fort William coincided with The Jacobite getting up steam, and the lovely gent from Slipway Autos was there ready and waiting with a sign and and our Practical Car Rentals Citroen C1. Super speedy admin – the first time I’ve used the DVLA / GOV.UK online service create a ‘check code’ to share my driving record with a car hire company and it worked like a dream. The only bit of paperwork was the Vehicle Rental Agreement! Done and dusted in less than 5 mins.

I tell a lie, there was one more bit of paper – a handy map of the Fort William & Lochaber area which made our drive to Skye super-easy: North up the A82 to Invergarry then west along the A87 all the way to the Kyle of Lochalsh and across the bridge to Skye.

En route, a leg stretch and photo op at Loch Lochy, a late elevenses / early lunch at the Jac-o-Bite Inn in Kintail (in a downpour), and another photo stop at the stone slipway at Aird Point (Dornie) with its views across Loch Duich to Eilean Donan Castle. A detour north towards Stromeferry and around the peninsula brought us to Plockton for a stroll around the village and harbour.

Then across the sea to Skye.

Broadford was our first stop on Skye. Easy (and free!) parking (hark the Londoner) looking out over Broadford Bay. Another stroll, via the scattering of small shops to the old stone pier then back through town and out the other side and onto the stone beach. Crystal clear waters, fiery seaweed, bluebells and trees in bud. Beautiful.

Phil at Broadford harbour, Skye
Phil at Broadford harbour, Skye

Continuing north along the A87 we skirted sea lochs and scurried under looming mountains, veering north west at Portree and turning onto the A850 at Carbost/Borve, the scenery shifting at every turn.

Our destination – the small village of Edinbane and Shorefield House, our B&B for the next 3 nights. Both bed(room) and breakfast definitely merit their 4 stars.

After a warm welcome from Hilary and Peter, we settled in and took up the offer of a refreshing pot of tea and the decidedly superior selection of biscuits before heading out on foot to explore the village and for a pre dinner stroll along the banks of the Abhainn Choishleadar.

The “Where to have dinner?” decision was easy – the excellent Edinbane Inn is a couple of minutes walk away from Shorefield House. As it turned out, lots of other people had the same idea, but our hour’s wait turned into 20 minutes and that gave us time for a pint and some crisps, both Skye-made, before tucking, slightly tipsily, into a tasty, tasty meal.

Then back to base. Still light at 11pm.

Friday 19 May 2017: Edinbane – Coral Beach – Neist Point Lighthouse – Portree – Scorrybreac – Trotternish Peninsula – Portree – Edinbane

The sunniest day of our sojourn on Skye.

A feast of a breakfast* at Shorefield House then off, driving west along the A850 to Dunvegan, past the castle and turning north along a single track road running along the shores of Loch Dunvegan to Claigan. First stop – Coral Beach, which came complete with seals leaping in the bay and a cold wind. Back in the car, back to Dunvegan and onto the B884 heading west across the the Duirish Peninsula to Neist Point and its famous lighthouse. A steep path / steps down – better views from the cliffs close to the parking area, and you can see the sea birds nesting on the cliffs too.

After retracing our road to the A863 we continued south east to Struan where we turned left onto the B885 to take the short cut across the island to Portree.

A potter around Portree and then the Scorrybreac Circuit. A pleasure in the warm afternoon sun; the wind had died down completely.

Green hill, blue waters. Scorrybreac Circuit scenery
Green hill, blue waters. Scorrybreac Circuit scenery

The lovely early evening light saw us complete the drive around the Trotternish peninsula, with several stops for photos of the Western Isles. Beautiful.

Evening light over the Western Isles, from the Trotternish peninsula
Evening light over the Western Isles, from the Trotternish peninsula

Our plan to have dinner somewhere in Uig was foiled by all the possible pubs’ car parks being too full, so it was plan B – back to Portree and the Lower Deck Seafood Restaurant down by the harbourside.

Back to base and the wifi to work out a plan for tomorrow, which looked likely to be damp….

* juice, muesli with plain yoghurt and fresh raspberries, oatcakes and cheese, granola and blueberries, veggie fry up – two veggie sausages, scrambled egg, fried mushrooms, fresh fried tomatoes, clootie dumpling – toast and tea. And that was just me.

Saturday 20 May 2017: Edinbane – Carbost / Talisker Distillery – Broadford – Elgol – Edinbane

I was a bit more restrained in my breakfast order this morning – mushrooms on toast (after muesli with yoghurt, prunes and water melon) to allow room for at least one triangle of toast and jam/honey (which I just about managed) and a nice big cafetiere of coffee between us. That set us up for a somewhat damp day, driving around the west of the island.

Taking the A850 west and the south east again, we detoured off onto some of the map’s “white” roads, via Harlosh and Vatten, around Loch Bracadale. Really lovely, even in the grey.

We were heading to the Talisker Distillery, on the shores of Loch Harport. Busy on a drizzly day, so we had an hour to while away before we could join the first tour of the afternoon. Easily done strolling along the waterfront and pottering around the small display in the Visitor Centre. A bit heavy handed with the history and The Brand – you could tell there was a big business behind it.

The tour was interesting, and there was a tasting at the end. As driver, I was given my wee dram in a small takeaway pot. Very Good.

The weather hadn’t improved, and didn’t, which made for an afternoon’s drive – east to Broadford for coffee and cake at Café Sia, then west along the B8083 to Elgol, almost at the end of the Strathaird peninsula. Very picturesque, and an opportunity for a photo of some free ranging Highland cows.

Highland cow, Strathaird peninsula
Highland cow, Strathaird peninsula

Then all the way back to Edinbane for dinner at the Edinbane Inn. Not nearly so busy as on Thursday – but we had booked a table in the restaurant Just To Be Sure.

Sunday 21 May 2017: Edinbane – Armadale – Invermoriston – Fort William – Caledonian Sleeper

Farewell to Skye and another damp day. So I started with a full veggie breakfast (including potato scone) to make up for it. As well as muesli and fresh fruit. And toast. Coffee again.

East and then south to Portree and south again along the A87. Through Broadford and onto the A851 – to Armadale and the CalMac ferry terminal. The next sailing to Mallaig and the mainland was docked, but we resisted temptation (and the risk of a dint or a scrape on the hire car) and returned to the mainland via Broadford and the bridge.

Looking across the Sound of Sleat from Armadale
Looking across the Sound of Sleat from Armadale

East along the A87 all the way to Invermoriston, where we stopped at the superb Glen Rowan Cafe for the best coffee and cake of the trip. Highly recommended.

Then the A82 south west, along the shores of Loch Ness – not a Nessie in sight – and onwards through the Great Glen, arriving back in Fort William with a couple of hours to spare before catching the 9pm Caledonian Sleeper back to London.

That gave us time to tour around the ring road and one way system before parking back at the station, to stock up on dinner treats from Morrisons, to walk the length of the High Street and down to the shores of Loch Linnhe and back to the High Street again for a pint and some crisps at The Grog & Gruel.

A painless car key drop at the ticket office, then down to coach Y and into our cabin for a picnic dinner watching the Scottish scenery roll by…..

Caledonian Sleeper at Fort William
Caledonian Sleeper at Fort William

We were back in London Euston by 9.15am Monday morning, in time to join the commuters on the Circle line heading east to the City.

Dolpo Expedition: Packing

I’ve spent today packing. Even though it’s a week or so before we fly to Kathmandu, today / tomorrow was my only chance before Steffi and Sam arrive from Far West Wales.

When we met up in March, Val had given me a holdall of LED* stuff (including a box of donated eye glasses and 10 or so of the inflatable LuminAID solar lights) to take out, and last Tuesday I’d picked up a large suitcase and a big M&S Christmas Carrier Bag full of clothes donated by Sonal and her friends. Getting all of that into my 75 litre Karrimor rucksack, and handbaggage, was looking like a Herculean Challenge…

But with the help of 3 of those vacuum storage bags which you put clothes in and then suck the air out of, plus (wo)man power from Silver Surfer Jean and (vitally!) her hoover, I’ve managed to compress a bunch of the warmest coats/jackets/fleece tops etc so that I can fit as much as possible in, and still have room for my own kit.

So. Kit. What am I taking? We’re away for 31 days, it’s a portered trek and the weather’s wintry:

  • Update from Val today: OK there is heaps of snow and we’ve had lots of rain so I’m hoping that with your arrival it will all start to clear up and be good normal weather.
  • Mark Horrell’s blogpost about his recent Langtang trek: The 3 curses of the Himalayan snow
  • Yr.No weather forecast for Dolpā (Altitude: 4857 m)

    Dolpo Expedition: Long term forecast for Dolpā, Mid West (Nepal)
    Yr.No Long term forecast for Dolpā, Mid West (Nepal)

Well, I took photos as I packed:

Dolpo Expedition: Packing
Dolpo Expedition: Packing

And used my trusty kit list spreadsheet, which translated into this packing:

Documents & paperwork

  • Passport
  • Insurance Policy
  • Tickets / Flight confirmation email
  • Vaccinations log book
  • 6 x passport photos for park permit & tourist visa (on arrival)
  • KTM contact details
  • Emergency family contacts
  • Photos of home
  • Travel diary & pens
  • Envelopes + postcards for tips

Money

  • GBP
  • USD
  • NPR
  • Credit card
  • Debit card

Travel clothes / KTM & Pokhara

  • Cargo trousers, T-shirt, Grey zip top (plus trek boots and socks I don’t mind walking around the aeroplane in)
  • Orange check shirt
  • Long sleeve T shirt

Trek clothes

  • 2 pairs of trekking trousers
  • 2 x microfibre trekking T-shirts
  • 2 x T-shirts
  • 1 Fleece zip top
  • Thermals: leggings + long sleeved microfibre top + thicker Icebreaker top
  • Down jacket
  • Gloves (1x mittens; 1 x red fleece)
  • Warm hat
  • Buff
  • Goretex jacket
  • Waterproof trousers
  • Gaiters (new ones, an early birthday present from TJBR)
  • Windproof / showerproof jacket
  • Sun hat
  • Sunglasses (1 x normal for KTM/POK; 1 x Julbo for snow/sun/altitude)
  • 16 pairs pants
  • 3 x bras
  • 4 pairs walking socks
  • handkerchief x 2

Sleeping

  • Silk sleep sheet
  • Sleeping bag fleece liner
  • PJ bottoms x 2 (1 x trek; 1 x KTM / POK)
  • T shirts x 2 (1 x trek; 1 x KTM / POK)

Footwear

  • Trekking boots
  • Adventure sandals
  • Yaktrax (and planning to buy some spikeys in KTM/POK if the conditions still look super snowy)

Plus

  • Trekking poles
  • 2 x Muji metal water bottles
  • Head torch + spare batteries (3xAAA)
  • Watch with alarm
  • Swiss Army knife

Toiletries etc

  • Flannel & soap in ziplock bag
  • Hair brush & comb
  • Elastic hair bands & hair clip
  • Travel towel (microfibre cloth)
  • Hair towel
  • Toothbrush & toothpaste
  • Deodorant (stick)
  • Tampons & disposal bags
  • Shampoo & conditioner (3 sample sachets of each)
  • Sunscreen & lip screen
  • 8 hour moisturising cream (always!!!)
  • Normal moisturiser
  • Antiseptic handwash
  • Wet wipes (biodegradable)
  • Loo roll / tissues
  • Ear plugs
  • Laundry liquid
  • Washing up gloves

Bags

  • Rucksack (to leave in POK)
  • Nisamax holdall (Val’s)
  • Daypack
  • Black travel bag
  • Money belt
  • Plastic carrier bags (always more than I think I’ll need, in all sizes)
  • Travel purse x 2 (GBP / Nepali Rupees)

First aid kit (in plastic grab bag)

  • Antiseptic wipes
  • Paracetamol (headaches)
  • Diamox
  • Antihistamine pills
  • Diarrhoea stopper (Immodium)
  • Rehydration sachets
  • Ibuprofen gel
  • Compeed
  • Plasters
  • Aspirin (3 tablets for the  journey home, vs DVT after 3 weeks at altitude)

Electricals and gadgets

  • Camera, cables, battery recharger, plug adapter
  • Spare camera batteries – charged
  • Mobile phone (no charging kit – I’ll turn it off once we’re in KTM)
  • Earphones

I’m borrowing a sleeping bag, thermarest and (I hope!) kit bag from Val, who’s also providing travel scrabble and dice for Ten Thousand. I’ll buy a map out there and I’m hoping I’ll be able to squeeze in a couple of books, just in case Etihad’s in flight entertainment fails me. Plus we do have hours in Abu Dhabi in both directions.

And this list doesn’t include all the stuff I’m taking for Val/LED.


Feeling less stressed now that I’ve got my bags packed.

So that just leaves sorting out a birthday present for Rosa before I go…..


Packing List Update: 04 April 2017

  • 1 x pillow case (to turn spare clothes into a pillow)
  • 1 x nail clippers and nail file – usually on the list. I shall make room.
  • Elastic washing line. I am going to need to do some washing….

Light Education Development, the charity Val runs to bring affordable, sustainable solar light, education supplies and basic medical care to the Manaslu, Tsum, Solu and Humla regions of northern Nepal, yak herders in highland areas of the Himalaya, and the high mountain villages of the Cordillera Blanca and Huayhuash in Northern Peru. I’m a trustee.

Trek prep: “How did you get into trekking?”

One question that I’m often asked is “How did you get into trekking?”.  If our paths crossed 9-5 (am-pm, and more accurately “8-7”), you probably wouldn’t picture me looking like this:

Me on the path back from Mu Gompa to Chhule - Tsum Valley, Nepal
Me on the path back from Mu Gompa to Chhule – Tsum Valley, Nepal
Me on the scree, Yerupajá beyond - Cordillera Huayhuash, Peru
Me on the scree, Yerupajá beyond – Cordillera Huayhuash, Peru

So, some history.

I did a fair amount of hill walking in my younger years – starting with walks over Ewyas Harold Common and up (and down) Skirrid as a kid, then with Ventures and through the Duke of Edinburgh award as a teen. At St Andrews I joined Breakaway, which led me a bit more towards the mountain walking end of the spectrum. Not at rope / crampon / ice axe levels though.

Then London, a job, the life of a twenty / thirty / forty something in the smoke – and the opportunities to get out and about anywhere without a few hours of travel on public transport pretty much disappeared.

I work in the legal sector – long hours, desk-bound, but well paid so I can do one or two “holidays” a year.  Initially these were city breaks and cultural group tours,  with occasional DIY trips with travel-mate Hazel to take advantage of family/friends based in exotic locations. You can see the list on Where I’ve Been.

Then, in 2009, Hazel and I decided to do the Annapurna Circuit and it’s been trekking holidays for me ever since.

Looking out over Mustang, and towards a new set of mountain peaks, from the Thorong La (5,416 meters / 17,769 feet) - Annapurna Circuit, Nepal
Looking out over Mustang, and towards a new set of mountain peaks, from the Thorong La (5,416 meters / 17,769 feet) – Annapurna Circuit, Nepal

There were two trips that rekindled my love of the great outdoors (not that I’m sure it ever really went away), and gave me the confidence that I wasn’t crazy to tackle a 19 day trek over the 5,416 m / 17,769 ft Thorong La, albeit one featuring porters, a guided group and tea houses.

Torres del Paine "W" trek, day 5: me on the narrow path from the Refugio to our pick up at Hotel Las Torres
Torres del Paine “W” trek, day 5

The first was 2003’s month in Chile and Argentinian Patagonia when I caught up with Hazel during her travels in South America. Our route took us from Santiago to Punta Arenas, and we spent 5 magic days in Torres del Paine National Park walking the “W”. We carried ridiculously large packs given we were staying in refugio and weren’t carrying/cooking our food, but we did 5 days of continuous walking, with rucksacks and through all sorts of weather.

Me and Hazel on the prayer flag stairway to the monastery, Taktshang
Me and Hazel on the prayer flag stairway to the monastery, Taktshang

The second was the Wild Frontiers’ Bhutan: Land of the Thunder Dragon – Spring Festival Tour, in 2008. Very much a cultural trip, scattered throughout there were chances to stretch our legs in the high Himalaya.

We had a half day hike up to the famous Tiger’s Nest Monastery (Paro Taktshang) at 3,120 m / 10,240 ft above sea level (mind you, the trail starts at 2,600 m / 8,525 feet), but my favourites were the walks through the countryside and communities of the Mo Chhu river, Chokhor and Radi valleys.

Those half day meanders really whetted my appetite for a holiday that was all about walking and in the eight years since Annapurna I’ve spent most of them in the mountains, the higher the better. A chance encounter with Val Pitkethly on our Three High Passes to Everest trek brought opportunities to experience Peru’s Cordilleras Huayhuash and Blanca under canvas and to get off the beaten track in Nepal – as well as to do some good through her charity, Light Education Development.  Crampons, ropes and ice axes have started to feature too….

Me at the Ishinca / Ranrapalca col - Cordillera Blanca Traverse, Peru
Me at the Ishinca / Ranrapalca col – Cordillera Blanca Traverse, Peru

…. which brings me to training, which I’ll talk about in my next post.

 

Walton weekend

Just home after our first visit of the year where we’ve not needed the night storage heaters on! Three lovely sunny-yet-misty days on the Sunshine Coast. Spring is on its way.

New mug

Ticked off some Residents Association admin on Fri and Sat, and we also masticked above the bedroom window in the hope that that will deter the rain…..

More enjoyably, I installed the Tooting Wilko pillowcases-as-cushion covers on the window seat. The finishing touch, it looks smashing. And Friday’s walk along the Prom to Frinton yielded a promising batch of books and a Cornishware style mug. Very satisfying.

Saturday’s stroll revealed lots of purple violets along the path along the cliff tops near Seacliffe Trailer Park, Walton’s hideaway home of the super posh caravans (“Trailer Park” really creates the wrong impression).

Saturday night saw our first meal at the superb Pearl of Samui since November. Too long!

Sunday was spent more leisurely, reading at home. It has been good reading too – Simon Armitage’s, Walking Away, PD James’ Death Comes To Pemberley and Donna Leon’s By Its Cover. We also finished off the two old packets of washing powder.

"Extra Power" Daz and "Square Deal" Surf - Which would you rather be?

With summer on the horizon, the old Tourist Info office is being converted into an ice cream kiosk and opens on 1st April. I still think it was crazy to relocate the tourist info all the way up to the Naze. Fine for drivers, but in the summer so many people come here by train – and may have no idea where “The Naze” is nor any inclination to go there. The station ticket office is closing too.

And relax!