Exe-rated runners!

Exe-rated runners!
The successful Harriers team, en masse, at the Erme Valley Relays, July 2013

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Blog takes a break

Hello to all the faithful Exmouth Harrier blog followers. Sorry to disappoint you but I'm off on holiday tomorrow and don't intend upon going near a computer whilst there so there will be no updates for the next few weeks. I realise that this is a massive blow as there is absolutely nothing of note on the calendar around the end of December and beginning of January to distract you from your withdrawal symptoms and I know you would all be sat indoors over the next couple of weeks with a cup of cocoa in hand, reading this as there's nothing else to do. But you'll just have to wait until early January I am afraid and try to find something to amuse yourselves in between times!! ;-)

On a serious note: wishing all the Harriers and all the blog followers a merry Christmas and a happy New Year. Let's hope 2013 is another successful one!

20 Harriers take on (and take over!) Killerton Parkrun

On Saturday 15th December, 20 Exmouth Harriers headed to Killerton House to participate in the weekly Parkrun that is staged there. Many members have already been seduced by the charms of this fun, friendly and FREE weekly run, but other Harriers had yet to give it a go. So our newly elected men's team captain, Adam Miller, suggested at the AGM that we all target the run en masse this week, and so a date was set and it proved to be a very popular idea with 20 members all pitching up, armed with their barcode and ready to run!

The route is an undulating 5k through the grounds of Killerton that includes some fields, a wooded section and some farm tracks. We were hoping at the start of the week that a spell of dry weather would dry up the course and that seemed to be the case... until the 24 hour-long downpour that occurred yesterday totally saturated it again. So the Harriers had to contend with a lot of mud on the route, particularly on the 2 field sections at the start and finish of the race, which were extremely boggy.

Despite these conditions, however, some good times were still posted and there was even the odd PB set by runners who had participated before. Adam Miller, recently crowned as the Harriers Male Athlete of the Year at the Harriers' annual award do last week AND also recently crowned as Parkrunner of the month for November 2012 by the Parkrun organisers, proved his worthiness of both these titles, finishing as first Harrier and 4th overall on the day in an exceptionally high quality men's field. Guest Harrier, Berihu Tesfay, won the race overall, just out-sprinting Exeter Harrier James Denne at the very end. These were everyone's times and placings (first timers indicated F.T. and new Killerton PB as PB).

Berihu Tesfay: 1st in 17:09 (F.T.)
Adam Miller: 4th in 18:29
Tony Hatchard: 7th in 19:25 (F.T.)
Ellie Sutcliffe: 8th (1st female) in 19:36 (PB, by 1 second!)
Andy Johnson: 15th in 21:54
Roger Rowe: 22nd in 23:09
Terry Oldham: 24th in 23:18 (F.T.)
Dave Eveleigh: 25th in 23:20
Bob Keast: 26th in 23:28 (F.T.)
Carly Audritt: 31st (8th female) in 24:00
Lisa Hatchard: 36th (11th female) in 25:09 (F.T.)
Dawn Teed: 38th (12th female) in 25:19 (F.T.)
Lorraine Gilson: 39th (13th female) in 25:21 (F.T.)
Finn Musgrove: 42nd in 25:31 (F.T.)
Mike Musgrove: 43rd in 25:33 (running with son Finn)
Alison Milborrow: 52nd (15th female) in 27:21 (F.T.)
Nicola Crook: 53rd (16th female) in 27:33 (F.T.)
Diana Richards: 36th (18th female) in 27:53
Les Turner: 62nd in 29:20

81 finishers. So Harriers made up 1/4 of the total field today!! Go us!

The before photo...

...and the after!

Mike paced his son Finn around his first Parkrun and he did amazingly well: under 26 mins and he's not even 14 yet!

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Mike is top vet at the inter-services XC series!

Mike Musgrove emerged triumphant as the top vet athlete after a series of 6 challenging cross-country races that have taken place over the last few months at various venues throughout Devon and Cornwall. Participants were representing their respective "service", with Mike, from the fire service, battling it out alongside runners from the police and the various armed forces branches.

Mike reports having had some particularly good battles over the 6 races with Pete Waumsley, of Tamar Trotters, but running for the Royal Navy, and Stuart Hall, winner of this year's Bicton Blister race, also representing the fire service.

The terrains varied and incorporated a mixture of multi-terrain, trail style courses, in addition to the more traditional cross-country track, run on multiple laps of fields.

As the series wrapped, Mike was announced as the victor overall in the vet categories and placed high up the overall rankings as well.

Jon Garrity nets 2nd spot at Haldon

Also on Sunday, on what proved to be an extremely hectic day on the Harriers racing calendar, with members racing at 4 different events, Jon Garrity headed to the nearby Haldon Forest Country Park to participate in the Haldon Forest Festive 10k. Participants were encouraged to dress up in Christmas themed fancy dress for this run around the Dawlish Coasters' Forest Flyer 5 course, so although billed as a 10k, it was in fact a good mile under that distance. Nevertheless, there is a substantial climb back up the forest to the finish line that still makes this a fair test of endurance.

Jon has been running really well of late and has been staying on top of his persistent calf problem to get some quality training miles in. He found himself running in a pack of 4 runners heading up the field for most of the race, including local S.W.R.R. rivals, Ian Pang and Andy Jones. Towards the end they all started to test each other and push the pace and it proved to be Andy Jones who handled it best, taking the victory, but Jon was only 20 seconds adrift in 2nd place in a time of around 35 minutes.

Today he jets out to Lanzerote for a week's training at the winter season training venue, Club La Santa. Ooh, get him - elite! He plans to benefit from the daily track coaching sessions, in addition to taking his bike and hitting some of the scenic high roads around the volcanic island. With temperatures currently at 20 degrees, he'll definitely appreciate escaping our current cold snap and will hopefully return refreshed and armed with a good base for the New Year.

Harriers wrap up as the final round of the 3k also wraps up!

Four Exmouth Harriers were on the track in Exeter for the final round of the Ironbridge Runner 3km Series.

The temperature was low enough to see frost forming on the track surface, leaving runners without spikes short on traction, particularly on the bends.

Les Turner ran 14:42 in the D Race and picked up the overall first prize for Men Over 65 for the series. 

Carly Audritt was 10th in the C Race in 13:24 but unfortunately, having been forced to sit out the second round in November due to illness, she was unable to post the 3 times that were necessary in order to place in the series. 

Also in the C race, Dave Eveleigh tried but failed to get away from rival Dave King who tracked him all the way to the final straight before pulling away to win comfortably (third in 12:06 to Eveleigh’s fifth in 12:12), but Eveleigh was second overall in the 55+ Men’s section for the 3 rounds.

Andrew Johnson worked especially hard in finishing 10th in the B Race, his time on the track-side clock showing an impressive 11:51, though officially he was given 12:01. 

The whole event, four 3km races and a mile run for younger athletes, as well as presentations was very efficiently completed in an hour and a half so that runners could get out of the cold and get warmed up!

Mark does the Full Monty!

10 miles, 10 hills, 1 Mark: The Full Monty Cute 10!

On Sunday 2nd December Mark Thompson, one of a number of Exmouth Harriers who specialise in Ultra Marathons and off-road events, took on a race over 10.5 miles, a distance 20 miles or more shorter than that of some of the events he has completed. This was in Somerset near Montacute, close to Yeovil, and was entirely off-road. This is always a popular race that sells out one month in advance. 

The race organisers, Crewkerne Running Club, would appear to rely on two publications. One is an O.S. map to pick out hills - this course including one for each complete mile - and the other seems to be a bit of creative wizardry as they seek out a race title that will stick in the memory of potential participants! Hence Mark was competing in “The Full Monty Cute Trail Race”. 

He describes the first two ascents as “monsters” with a rope being needed at one point on the first. Mark was 33rd of sell-out field of almost 250 runners (that’s top 15%) and was timed at 91:18 (and that’s an impressive 7mph over this taxing terrain).

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Some cracking performances at the Wyvern Christmas Cracker 10k!

On Sunday 9th December there were 4 Harriers making their way up the M5 to Weston-Super-Mare (love that name!) to take part in the Weston AC organised 'Wyvern Christmas Cracker 10k'. Sometimes just referred to as the Weston 10k, this is an extremely popular race and each year the 2000 places sell out far in advance of the race. Cathy Newman, Berihu Tesfay and Mike Musgrove had already signed up long ago, but a last minute place, courtesy of Cathy's brother who couldn't run, came available and was generously offered to and eagerly accepted by me, Ellie.

The race is almost entirely flat but half of it is run on the vast expanse of beach at Weston, which slightly slows the times. Also, this year, there was a truly ferocious wind blowing in off the sea. Luckily for the stretch along the beach, it was a side wind, but it was still debilitating to your average speed, and on the occasions when you turned into it head on, it was like hitting a brick wall.

The performance of the day undoubtedly goes to Mike who had an absolute "cracker"! He felt strong throughout, despite the blustery conditions, and he ran himself into 7th place overall (out of 1605 finishers!) in a chip time of 36:01. This is only 8 seconds outside of his PB, so, given an all tarmac surface and less wind, he would likely have obliterated his 10k time by about a minute. He was also a comfortable winner in the MV40 category and picked up a silver tray and a Mizuno shoe voucher for his stellar performance.

Berihu was using the race as a fast leg stretch and tempo run and not aiming to go all out as he is still taking things steady after a calf strain last month. He ran with eventual 4th placer, Pete Monaghan of Torbay AC, for a while, before settling into a steady rhythm and eventually crossing the line in 5th place in a time of 35:26.

Cathy and I started off running shoulder to shoulder for the first mile and both of us were looking for a good race, having been so closely matched at the XC the previous week. After about a mile though, Cathy drifted off the pace and I didn't look around to see where she was, expecting her to be there within striking distance, until the final turn for the finish, when I was surprised not to see her behind me. It turns out she was starting with a cough and a cold and she had difficulties clearing her throat and this effected her breathing, she even had to completely stop at one stage to clear her throat, but it never came right the whole race. So in the end she finished in a time of 45:59 - apparently a PW, even eclipsing the time she set for 10k at 7000ft of altitude in Eithiopia. Poor Cathy had targeted this race to get under 40 minutes before the end of the year, having narrowly missed out by 2 seconds at the Dartmoor Vale 10k in October. And she was certainly on form and more than capable of it had she been fit and well. Bad timing of a cold and the run meant that Cathy had a day at the office that she'd rather forget. But we know it's only a matter of time and finding the right course before she gets well under 40 minutes again.

I was very relaxed about this race, having raced the previous day I had no expectations on myself and was just viewing the race as a bonus and aiming to enjoy it. And enjoy it I did! It felt like the time flew past and I never got to that point that I almost always get to in every race, the 'why the hell am I doing this?' point! I felt comfortable throughout and so was pleasantly surprised to duck in under 39 mins, 38:55, and to sneak the 3rd spot in the female race and 18th overall.

The organisation of this race is second to none and the atmosphere is superb. The motto of the race is: no tinsel, no time, and every runner is asked to either wear fancy dress (it was in fact Santa who came 2nd in the race!) or to at least wear a token piece of tinsel. All of us would highly recommend this race for someone looking for a fun, fast, flat 10k to round off the year!

Mike (1st MV40) and Ellie (3rd female) with our prizes

What a caper!

On Saturday 8th December, 3 Exmouth Harriers were in the village of Cockington, near Torquay, for the 7.25 mile multi-terrain Cockington Caper race. Organised not by a running club but by the Barnabus Sports Trust, who promote sports events and coaching by way of demonstrating and applying their own Christian beliefs. The organisation of this race is extremely thoughtful with the route being designed so that it forms three separate loops that keep bringing runners back through the HQ at Cockington Forge and cricket club, making it interesting for the spectators whilst also providing a boost to the runners as their friends and family can keep cheering them on.

 This year the organisers had added another extra cheeky bit of hill at the start, sending you right up to the top of the first field, taking the overall feet of climb for the 7.25m to over 1600ft: more climb than the Drogo! The going under foot was also muddier this year and was a bit of a slog in places.

I, Ellie Sutcliffe, did this race last year and, after leading it until the 7 mile mark, got overtaken by a much stronger Wendy Urban of Torbay AC on the last big climb with 1/4 of a mile to go and got run into 2nd. With that in mind, I wanted to go one better this year, so I climbed hard and tried to pick up speed along the only flat section of the course between miles 5 and 6 and, at this point, I found that my time was up on last year.... and then I went off course!! That'll teach me to just blindly follow the guy in front, assuming he knows where he's going, and not to look out for the tape and markers myself! We found ourselves in the middle some bushes and brambles and the path suddenly came to an abrupt halt. He started to shout 'help', and I started f-ing and blinding a little bit, thinking that I could be about to concede my lead. Fortunately the Torbay runner, who was some 100m behind me before I went off course, appeared up above us in the woods and responded to our cries and so we then knew where the  real path was. Instead of back tracking, I opted to beat my own route through the bushes and I ploughed on up the steep, brambly woodland ravine to pop out like a goafer back on track and I put the hammer down for the finish. I estimate I lost about a minute - although it felt like more at the time! - and so I finished 12 seconds slower than last year but 1st lady and 12th overall in 59:13.

Lisa Hatchard had a superb race. She is really starting to show a talent, and definitely a love, for these tough, hilly multi-terrain races. She started off at a sensible pace and after the first loop, of 2.5m, as she came back through the HQ, she was lying in about 9th in the female race. However, she kept strong to the end and kept battling on up some of the really steep climbs and picking off other female runners as she went. By the finish she had clawed her way up 5 places and finished as 4th female overall in 1:13:03, just missing out on 3rd by 30 seconds, but she was first in the FV35 category and gained a trophy and her choice of 2 different running accessories for her efforts.

Alison Milborrow is also enjoying her off-road running and backed up her fine performance at the Templer 10 with another solid run here at Cockington. Although she stated beforehand that she was not racing it but just treating it as a training run and aiming to enjoy it and take in some of the scenery without having to watch her footing the whole way round, as you do when you race, she still finished well up the field in 129th place overall in 1:27:48 and had indeed managed to enjoy herself.. unlike Lisa who said 'never again', but we're sure that she will change her mind once her legs have recovered!!

The fab 3 ready for the off at Cockington Forge!!

Lisa coming through the HQ area at the end of the first loop

First FV35 at the XC last week, 1st FV35 at a multi-terrain race this week!

Monday, 10 December 2012

Harriers toast a successful 2012 at the annual awards dinner and dance!

On Friday 7th December, Exmouth Harrier members ditched their usual lyrca shorts and technical tee-shirts and got glammed up in party dresses and snappy shirts and trouser combos (well, unless you are Dave Stone!!) for the club's annual dinner and dance and award presentations.

The evening got under way at 7.30pm at the Exmouth Rugby Club with every member being bought a free drink, courtesy of the club, to raise a glass to another successful year on the running front. As they approached the bar and waited for their drinks, members were able to admire the displays of newspaper articles written about themselves and their performances in a collage put together by Harriers' press man, Dave Eveleigh. En masse they amounted to a good amount of success stories and showed that although we are a small club we punch well above our weight! Members also received a free copy of the 'Exmouth Harriers Year Book 2012', which Dave Eveleigh has been working tirelessly on for several months and which details each member's individual achievements as well as highlighting some of the key team performances and club events that have taken place over the last year. This seemed to go down very well and members were soon engrossed in the text and the venue turned more into a library than a party hall for a few minutes whilst members laughed and grimaced at their own photos and gasped at some of their fellow Harriers' former achievements and PBs!

Next up came the very popular 'cryptic film quiz', where members got together around their tables in team of 8 to try and identify 10 listed films from the 10 cryptic clues. The victorious team, with 9/10 correct, won a bottle of bubbles for their efforts!

Then came the part that any athlete welcomes: the food! All the hungry Harriers tucked into a buffet of hot and cold foods and then even found room for desert, before the room was called to order for the highlight of the evening: the presentation of the 3 club awards and the drawing of the London Marathon ballot places.

The first award to be presented was the 'Female Athlete of the Year' award. Chosen by members, based on a vote count, this award went to Hannah Bown this year for making an amazing come back to running after the birth of her 3 children. Hannah has been in the club for some years now, and has even won this award before in 2004, but this year she has returned stronger than ever and has been setting some new PBs and life-time best performances. Since June there is not a single local race that she has failed to place in and her massive PB of 1:27:51 at the Cardiff Half Marathon, that gained her a championship start at the London Marathon, was the culmination of several months hard work and dedication to her training.

The 'Male Athlete of the Year' award, again voted for by members, went to Adam Miller. Like Hannah, Adam has been in the club for a few years now and has been a consistent performer at races, always placing in the top 10% of finishers. But this year, he has stepped up his running even more and has been knocking time off his PBs at all distances throughout the year, including a marathon best of 2:48 in London, a 36:30 10k at Ottery in May, a 77 minute half marathon at Bridgwater in September and a 28 minute 5 mile and 5th place at the highly competitive Churston Flyer in October, not to mention all his first place finishes and PBs at the weekly Killerton 5k Parkrun.

Aside from personal achievement, both Hannah and Adam have also been key players in all the club relay and team events, with Hannah helping the ladies team to success at the Sidmouth Festival 10k, the Drogo 10 mile and the Devon County XC championships. Adam has assisted the men's team to victory in the Woodland Relays and the Parrett Trail relay, and has supported teams at Erme Valley, the Coast to Coast Relay and the Westward League XC.

Talking of 'team players', the final award of the night to be presented was the president's award. Chosen solely by Harriers' chairman, Bob Keast, this award reflects an individual's contribution to the club over the year and this year it went to not one individual, but a couple: Stan and Joan Mason. Bob explained that he chose them as the worthy recipients because of their continued efforts on behalf of the club, that range from supporting Lorraine on the weekly Wednesday ladies' night run (we won't stop to debate Stan's attendance at the Ladies' runs on here!!), to supporting the club with any key events, such as club races, the Coast to Coast relay, the Sport Relief Mile and many more. They never big-up their own efforts and so this award shows that despite the fact that they just quietly get on with helping the club in whatever ways they can, their efforts are not going unnoticed and are appreciated.

Tension in the room rose again as it was time to draw the places for the London Marathon from the club's ballot. The club was allocated 2 places this year and 3 members met the criteria and put themselves forward for a place. The 2 lucky recipients were Diana Richards and Dave Backway: both of whom were thrilled but also a little bit nervous to have been successful as this now means they have a lot of training to do between now and April!

Well done to all the award winners and the London Marathon ballot winners.

The mood now lightened once again as the kareoke song book came out and, as per usual, Dave Stone was the first to put himself up for a sing-song. In previous years Dave has had a free run on the mic' and Harriers have revelled in his David Bowie impressions, but this year there was a challenger to the Stone Throne in the form of the talented Richard Hawes! Unfortunately for Dave, Rich performs live music on a regular basis and is also a recording artist, so Harriers were lucky to be entreated to their own live performance. When it came to the dancing though, Stonie is definitely in a class of his own and took to the dance floor with his smooth-moves like a seasoned pro!

All who attended had a great evening and the club is looking towards a very successful 2013!

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Exmouth Harriers ladies are Devon County XC champions!!

There was an impressive showing for Exmouth Harriers on Sunday (2 December) at the Devon Cross Country Championships, which were incorporated in the winter’s third Westward League fixture at Eastern Fields, close to the Exeter Arena. The club had eight finishers in both the Men’s and Women’s races and the Women’s team of Cathy Newman, Ellie Sutcliffe and Hannah Bown were crowned County Champions! They also gained automatic selection for the Devon team at the National Inter-Counties Championships in the New Year. Sunday’s route was winding, hilly and, of course muddy, but did afford plenty of opportunities for spectators to nip between different vantage points and offer their support. Scoring for teams in Cross Country is a simple matter of adding up positions but with the aim being the lowest score possible. On that basis the Exmouth trio scored 13, well clear of home club Exeter Harriers, who dominated the event as a whole, with their total of 34. Individually Cathy was 3rd overall and County Champion in the Over 50 Women’s category in a time of 18:54 for around 5km. Just one position and 4 seconds back, and picking up County Bronze in the Senior Women’s section, was Ellie with Hannah 6th overall in 19:40. Next in for Exmouth was Emma Dupain, 18th in 21:40, then Carly Audrit in an encouraging time of 22:29. Lisa Hatchard clocked 23:40 and was first woman over 35. Dawn Teed (24:15) and Nicola Kelly (25:20) were 4th and 6th respectively in the Over 45s contest.

In the Men’s race work commitments left Exmouth without a runner who could have picked up the Top 20 position which would have seen them amongst the team Medals there as well. Adam Miller was 23rd in 33:49 over just short of 9km and was 3rd Over 35. Marc Cox, still finding his feet on the country, was 27th in 34:38. Jon Garrity was 36th overall but 5th in the Over 40 age group, his time 35:58. Richard Hawes is proving addition to the club with this willingness to test himself on all surfaces. He was 45th in 38:01 and 9th in the very competitive Over 45 group. Jon was followed, in quick succession, by Chris Dupain (47th in 38:07) and Jon Toomey (48th in 38:08). These first six finished 4th in the team competition, 25 points behind Tavistock. Having steadily worked his way through the back markers Dave Eveleigh clocked 42:23 in 60th and recorded Exmouth Harriers’ third 4th place of the day, in the Over 55 category. However Jim Wyatt did go one better, with Bronze in the Over 70 age group of the County Championships. Competing in the Westward League, but not entered for the Championships was Lee Russell who was pleased with a better performance than for some time thanks to a solid block of training recently.

As regards the overall standings in the Westward Legaue, Cathy Newman is currently sat pretty in 1st place in the FV50 section, just ahead of local rival and another seriously talented vet athlete, Karen Cook of SWRR. Lisa Hatchard is now lying in 3rd place in the female over 35 category and ladies team captain, Dawn Teed, is also lying in 3rd position in the female over 45 category with 3 out of 3 appearances counting so far. Moira Glen is 2 places behind her after having to sit out this latest round due to injury. The women's team as a whole have hauled themselves up from 9th to 4th following this latest round in Exeter. If we can get a good turn out from our ladies at the remaining 3 events then we could even podium by the end of the series! 

The men had a really solid score to put on the board this round with 8 of them racing, but due to the fact that Adam Miller took on the might of all the other South-west clubs single-handedly in the first round in Redruth, the men's team are some way down the overall pecking order.

Just a small smattering of photos below to wet your appetite! Visit the Harriers Flickr page to see the full set!

Lisa Hatchard, running herself into 1st place in the FV35 race!

The victorious ladies' team: Devon County XC champions 2013!!

Adam Miller is prominent at the start of a very competitive men's race

Jon Garrity: the only Harrier to say afterwards that he enjoyed the race! And he raced the previous day at Otterton! We are impressed, you hear Jon, impressed!!

Monday, 3 December 2012

Otterton Reindeer Run re-routed!

On Saturday 1st December, Exmouth Harriers had three representatives in the main 10k Otterton Reindeer Run race, although many second claim Exmouth Harriers were also running as Exmouth Belles.

The race had to be re-routed due to the recent flooding that led to the Otter bursting its banks, so the river bank trail had to be avoided by sending the runners through an adjacent field. Of course, running through wet, boggy, muddy and rutted fields is much harder work than running on a neat, compacted, flat gravel path, and so times from this year's race were considerably down on other years and shouldn't be compared.

Jon Garrity had a very fine race considering he was also about to compete in the Devon County Cross-country championships the following day, and he finished a very commendable 11th overall out of the 196 finishers in a time of 44.42. The results do not distinguish between the different age categories so we don't know whether or not Jon won the battle of the vet 40s, but he will have been in with a shot.

Exmouth Harriers' chairman, Bob Keast, is totally at home off road, thanks to his ample training on hashing nights and in mountain marathons. He posted 55:46 for 72nd place overall.

Susan Hill made up the trio of Harrier performances, sploshing her way around the course to a time of 66:15 and 140th place.

The overall winner was Laurence Bolam of the host club, Sidmouth, in a time of 39.33. An unattached runner, Jo Whitfield, won the women's race, 20th place overall in 47.58.

The fun-run, which is usually a small, subsidiary race run alongside the main 10k run, was almost as popular this year, with 163 finishers. What is so fantastic to see is that almost all of those participants were children, and most of them under-12s. Exmouth Harrier off-spring made a large contribution to that number, with Mike and Nic Musgrove, Martin and Diane Richards, Rich Hawes, Hannah Bown and Lisa and Tony Hatchard all encouraging their children to have a go. These made up most of the Lympstone Primary School running clubs entrants, who, under the able training of Mike Musgrove, are really showing some early talent and promise for the sport. One of their runners actually won the race outright! All the juniors ran brilliantly and gave it all they had, with littl'uns as young as 7 - in the case of Rich's son - beating many of the under-17 athletes! Hopefully we were witnessing the future of the Exmouth Harriers in action here. We'll be having to start a junior's section soon to make sure they don't get spotted and poached! ;-)

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Comer's Corner: Exmouth Harrier on Tour, instalment 2

Instalment 2:
La Paz to Buenos Aires

Having survived the Worlds Most Dangerous Road on my last update, my second trip kicked off with another drama. Our first days drive from La Paz was supposed to end at a homestay in the local community of Livichenco, however all did not go to plan. The evening before we were due to leave the local guide contacted us as there was a miners strike in Challapata, which we needed to pass through to get to Livichenco. The strike involved burning tyre pyres across the road, the general throwing of rocks and military intervention. Based on this information we had to make alternative plans and so drove straight through to Potosi.

Potosi is the home of the most revered silver mines in Bolivia, and was the source of much of the Inca and Spanish wealth in the area. The ‘red mountain’ is actually a volcano and is mined for many different minerals. Black silver is now the most common silver strain found. Visiting the mines was an experience! The health and safety is second to none, with a shouted warning to watch the 200m deep hole on the left! Not quite the UK but is fascinating to see. The miners bring gifts of 97% alcohol, coca leaves and cigarettes to the devil in the hope that if they appease him then they will be safe for their shift. I also visited the mint museum to learn how the different Bolivian currencies have been made over the years. The city is not a typical mining town. There are some stunning buildings, and beautiful streets – all overlooked by the volcano. Well worth a vist!

After the extra day in Potosi we set off for Uyuni. The drive was beautiful, with the landscapes including desolate canyons, soaring mountains and eventually a vast white plain stretching beyond Uynui, surrounded by mountains. The evening was a relaxing one with a visit to the Extreme Fun Pub to sample some cocktails. Unfortunately for me my passengers also ran a sweepstake as the latest ‘Katie’s Challenge’ and paid for me to try the ‘Extreme Drinking Challenge’ which included 10 South America shots (one being six shots in one!!) being consumed as quickly as possible. The record: 35 seconds held by another Dragoman driver. As most of you will know, my tolerance for alcohol isn’t great at the best of times! My time: 66 seconds so a very credible attempt followed by instant drunkness and quick dash to the bathroom!!

Day 6 was our visit to the Uyuni salt flats on local jeeps. Feeling a little bit fragile (I insisted on having the windows down in the jeep!), we visited a salt processing business before being let loose with the cameras to play with the famous optical illusion salt flat photos. Hours of fun! We then visited fish island, which is made of coral. The salt flats used to be a sea, and as the water evaporated so the levels dropped and left the coral island exposed above the salt flats, now covered in cacti. Returning from the island we found a hole in the salt which turned out to be about 18 inches thick, and some natural springs coming up through the salt. The day finished with a visit to the train graveyard where we had another ‘Katie’s Challenge’ – this time to get from one end of the train to the other, without ever touching the ground. Mission successful!

Day 7 took us on the first days drive across the Bolivian Altiplano with local guide Braulio navigating to make sure we didn’t get lost. There are no maps or signs up there!! On the way through we visited the Valle de la Roche (Valley of the Rocks), which is a fascinating collection of rocks statues, sculpted by the winds. It was another day of vast landscapes, incredible lights, where llamas, alpacas, vicunas live in abundance, and our first rhea (small ostrich) was seen. We stayed overnight in a local refugia in a village called Ville Mar where we received a warm welcome with traditional Bolivian music.

The following day I was up early to dash up a mountain to watch the sunrise over the village, before setting off once again across the altiplano. The first famous stop was at the Laguna Colorado, a lake which is red in colour due to the mineral content and where flamingos can be seen in abundance. More incredible landscapes lead up to hot bubbling geysers, and a hot spring for lunch where we had chance to have a very quick 5 minute skinny dip (it was meant to be a paddle but it was just too tempting!). Finally passing the Laguna Verde (Green Lake) we crossed the border from Bolivia to Chile into San Pedro de Atacama and our hostel. San Pedro is an amazing place with a real Bohemian feel to it. Whilst there we crossed paths with another Dragoman truck - cue a crew night out for a catch up! Back at the hostel we caught up over a few more drinks and made friends with four Chileans who were just brilliant and patiently helped teach me some more Spanish (one was called Manuel!).

We spent day 9 enjoying San Pedro de Atacama, and took the passengers out to the desert and into the Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon) to see the sand dunes and rock formations, finishing with a desert sunset. One slight glitch when our passengers did a ‘truck swap’ from Yana to Elle and we went to the next stop, only to discover that a passenger had managed to get left behind in the toilet. A quick dash back and Priscilla (not joking) Queen of the Desert was recovered in time for us to get to a stunning sunset!

Day 10 involved a long drive day, crossed the border from Chile to Argentina and passing through the Argentine Salt Flats. Temperatures started at 8 degrees over the pass, followed by a steep descent through beautiful scenery to arrive at Salta and temperatures in the mid 30’s!!

The following day wasn’t a great day for me. I spent the morning in the very glamorous toilets at the truck park feeling terrible in 37 degree heat!! Steve eventually sent me back to the hotel at lunchtime, so spent the afternoon doing paperwork under the fan in the hotel reception which was the coolest place I could find to flake out!! By evening I was feeling well enough to join the group for a walk through the beautiful, vibrant city to sample the famous Argentine steak which was simply exquisite. Unfortunately I didn’t feel well enough to finish it, at which point the waiter insisted that I drink a Chilean speciality, Fernet, to settle my stomach. Made with herbs collected from a Venezuelan river, it tasted as bad as it sounds. I can’t say it settles my stomach, but it would work well as a cough medicine!

Back on the road the next day, this time we headed through a stunning valley, visiting a natural volcano-formed amphitheatre en route. Think of the photos at the entrance to Jordan and you’ll get the idea! The size and scale was incredible, and it made a fabulous backdrop for our lunch stop. Afterwards we continued on to the wine region of Cafayate and a campsite with some incredibly friendly dogs who kept escorting our passengers into town and back.

The following day I was back to feeling ill all day. Got drugs and slept in a patch of shade at our campsite as it was simply too hot anywhere else in temperatures reaching 35 degrees. In the afternoon the Andean ‘El nino’ wind picked up – strong hot winds rushing down from the Andes as the hotter air near the ground rises forcing the air down off the mountains, on this occasion creating a sandstorm. I woke up with sand coating everything including my eyelashes!! Sadly I wasn’t feeling up to sampling the wines form the region – this is an experience I have to save until the next time I do this trip.

Day 14 I was feeling better and we were back on the road, heading towards San Peteros estancia near Cordoba. A long drive day, again through stunning scenery and the Quilmes region. The Quilmes tribe was one of the last to be ousted by the Incas and the Spanish due to the nature and situation of the valley they lived in. Passing through Taffe de Valle and down the valley it is easy to see why – the area is incredibly inaccessible! Leaving the mountains we hit the agricultural lands of Argentina. With the impressive Andes to our right we had a long trip South towards Cordoba. Arriving at the Estancia just before dark, we had a warm reception from our host, Kevin, including an invite for wine tasting and cheese.

The estancia visit basically involved two days of horse riding. I was riding a lovely little mare called Reinita, who apparently is a very good polo pony although I wasn’t lucky enough to try out her skills. Led by Gauchos, we were taught how to lasso. I have discovered that I can catch firewood, as I caught the practice tree twice but the bullocks are safe from my rope! In the evening Steve and I ran an empanada class, teaching out passengers how to make a local speciality found throughout Argentina, accompanied by yet more wine.

The second day involved more horse riding, this time with a lunch stop at a beautiful waterfall and natural pool for swimming. Very cold but refreshing! The afternoon saw the group split with the more experienced riders having the chance to let off steam on the way back to the ranch house which was great fun! In the evening the ranch owners provided the most incredible barbeque – my expectations have risen and barbeques will never be the same again! Different cuts of steak, empanadas, salads, fresh home made breads, and more of the local wine. It was delicious!

Back on the road, we stopped in Cordoba for a few hours to allow our passengers to explore the city and have some lunch. Sadly, due to a lack of parking, Steve and I had to ‘borrow’ a bus stop and took it in turns to run and grab some lunch whilst ‘loitering innocently’, ready to make a quick get-away from a policeman if necessary. Fortunately we avoided all fines and made good our escape, heading south east towards Buenos Aires and an overnight campsite with some very friendly mosquitos!

An early start saw us arrive in Buenos Aires by lunch time, allowing passengers time to explore the city. Here I had my first experience of a ‘cambio man’ – not usually recommended but due to the current economic situation in Argentina cambio men give a much better exchange rate than the banks and you can get 1/3 more pesos for your dollar. I spent the last day of the trip in the truck park, washing all of the camping equipment and food storage. With the local Boca soccer team playing at home, celebrations were widespread, spirits were high, and the atmosphere in the city was electric. Out for our final group meal and some sad farewells to some of the members form the trip. Others are continuing on with us to do the leg from Buenos Aires to Rio de Janeiro. Watch this space for more updates to come!

Warning: envy inducing photos follow!!

Katie, making a splash!

Katie found a kindred spirit who likes a good old natter as much as she does! ;-)

Katie with one of her trek groups (possibly in the Atacama desert - is that right, Katie?)

A mountain above Quito, Equador, that Katie climbed... on her "day off"!!

We are loving hearing all your news and seeing these amazing pics - keep them coming Comer!! (And stay well!)