Drinking with the pinguino in Mendoza’s historic streets

The funny thing about Mendoza is that, despite being founded in 1561, thanks to a series of earthquakes that have periodically flattened the city, few historic buildings have survived into the 21st century. The most devastating came in 1861, levelling the town, killing approximately 5,000 people and leaving many thousands more destitute. A number of 20th century earthquakes caused further damage, including a big one in 1985. The entire region is seismically very active, the effects of which have shaped the face of modern Mendoza – which is not always pleasing to the eye.

Mendoza was founded by one of the second wave of Spanish conquistadors, Pedro del Castillo. In search of ever greater wealth, the Spanish were expanding their empire southwards from the now devastated Inca Empire in Peru. Castillo crossed over from Chile and discovered an area with an ingenious irrigation system using water from the glaciers in the Andes. The system was the creation of the native Huarpe and Puelche peoples, whom the Spanish displaced by war and disease. They kept and developed the irrigation system, which continues to make Mendoza a green city.

Street art, Mendoza, Argentina

Street art, Mendoza, Argentina

Mendoza, Argentina

Mendoza, Argentina

Mendoza, Argentina

Mendoza, Argentina

Street art, Mendoza, Argentina

Street art, Mendoza, Argentina

Plaza Espana, Mendoza, Argentina

Plaza Espana, Mendoza, Argentina

More settlers arrived and Mendoza became an important agricultural region, which is amazing given that it barely receives any rain and without that ingenious irrigation system would resemble a barren wasteland. Its growing prosperity made it politically and economically important. During the War for Independence from Spain, Mendoza was the headquarters of independence hero, General José de San Martín. It was from here in 1817 that his expeditionary force crossed the Andes to liberate Chile. A victory celebrated in statues and street names across the city.

While it destroyed all the old colonial-era buildings and forced the town to relocate to a nearby site, the 1861 earthquake bequeathed Mendoza its quintet of leafy plazas in today’s city centre. At the heart of the town is the large Plaza Independencia, radiating out from its corners are four smaller plazas: Italia, Chile, San Martin and España. Only a few blocks from any of these squares are most of Mendoza’s best restaurants, bars and museums. This includes Avenida Aristides Villanueva, a street that seems to be nothing but bars and restaurants catering to the town’s youthful population.

On our second day in town the weather continued to be unpredictable. The morning was grey and drizzly as we set out for a walk through the streets. It was a Sunday and there was little life in the town which, coupled with the weather, made it feel a little down at heel. On days like this you notice the old buildings that are crumbling thanks to a lack of investment, the homeless rooting through trash bins, and the beggars on pedestrianised Paseo Sarmiento going from table to table outside cafes. Mendoza seems to still be in the maw of the economic crisis.

Of course it also meant that no museums were open and many shops remained closed, leaving us with few options for entertainment. We were beginning to feel deflated when, as if by magic, the sun burst through the cloud and brought a whole new feeling to the city. The spring in our step restored, we headed to Avenida Aristides Villanueva for food, and were able to sit at an outside table to enjoy one of the great Argentinian treats – lunch accompanied by a pinguino of wine.

Microbrewery, Mendoza, Argentina

Microbrewery, Mendoza, Argentina

Microbrewery art, Mendoza, Argentina

Microbrewery art, Mendoza, Argentina

Street art, Mendoza, Argentina

Street art, Mendoza, Argentina

Pinguino of wine, Mendoza, Argentina

Pinguino of wine, Mendoza, Argentina

Restaurant Maria Antonieta, Mendoza, Argentina

Restaurant Maria Antonieta, Mendoza, Argentina

For anyone who’s never drunk from a porcelain pitcher in the shape of a penguin, a sort of kitsch Argentinian decanter, it’s a lot of fun. Possibly too much fun for adults over a certain age. We decided there was little to occupy us elsewhere in town so spent a long lunch to fully enjoy our pinguino. We were leaving early the next day for a few days in the Valle de Uco wine region, so after lunch walked off our meal in Parque San Martin before returning to the B&B. We had time for one final meal at the fabulous Restaurant Maria Antonieta, the perfect way to say goodbye to Mendoza.

Africa revisited, past wanderings through the beautiful continent

Travelling for work and for pleasure, I’ve been lucky to have had the opportunity to visit several African countries: north, south, east and west. Some of the most extraordinary cultures, peoples, landscapes and animals anywhere on this planet are on the African Continent. Back in London after a year and a quarter in Latin America, and looking over old photos, I thought it would be fun to explore those adventures again in this blog. It is a travel blog, after all.

A young girl laughs, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, Africa

A young girl laughs, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, Africa

Football shirt sellers, Yaounde, Cameroon, Africa

Football shirt sellers, Yaounde, Cameroon, Africa

Africa is not a place for preconceptions. If there is one truism, it is that a visit to any country in Africa will quickly disabuse you of most, if not all, your pre-existing views about the continent. This isn’t the place to go into it, but Western media coverage of Africa has been, and is, often negative, if not downright neo-colonial. While conflicts and dehumanising human rights abuses rage on in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia, to name two, its unlikely that the mainstream media is going to improve.

As with everything else in life, there are many other Africa’s which don’t make it onto the news agenda. For a start, the continent is vast, and the nations and peoples who populate them are as diverse as is humanly possible. Undoubtably, African countries face a range of problems – environmental degradation, corruption and a lack of political accountability, poverty, ethnic tensions and rampant inequality amongst others – but it also possesses the resources, intellectual capital and desire to overcome these issues. For the visitor, exploring the countries of Africa is a vast adventure.

A Tuareg sits on his camel at sunset, Sahara Desert, Mali, Africa

A Tuareg sits on his camel at sunset, Sahara Desert, Mali, Africa

The King in his jungle, mountain gorilla, Rwanda, Africa

The King in his jungle, mountain gorilla, Rwanda, Africa

It is almost impossible to comprehend the scale and artistry of the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela in northern Ethiopia, or the devotion of the priests and pilgrims who come here to observe a unique form of Orthodox Christianity. Yet, Lalibela seems a million miles away when you’re clambering up the side of a volcano with a AK-47 wielding park guard, only to push back the foliage to discover a troop of magnificent mountain gorillas, in the Parc National des Volcan in north-western Rwanda. The AK-47 is for the gorillas’ protection, incidentally.

Women fish in the shallows, Pemba, Mozambique, Africa

Women fish in the shallows, Pemba, Mozambique, Africa

Is it time to run yet? A lion approaches in the Maasai Mara, Kenya, Africa

Is it time to run yet? A lion approaches in the Maasai Mara, Kenya, Africa

Descending from the volcanoes onto the plains of East Africa, Kenya’s Maasai Mara seems to extend forever and is home to some of the most incredible animals and beautiful people anywhere in the world. Off to the west, the truly extraordinary cultures that inhabit Mali – a country currently beset by problems – are worth travelling the globe to encounter. It is almost impossible to put into words, but the experience of waking in the Sahara Desert to the sight of hundreds of brightly turbaned Tuareg, racing past on camels, is simply spectacular.

A fish seller in Kampala's central market, Uganda, Africa

A fish seller in Kampala’s central market, Uganda, Africa

That doesn’t even touch upon the thrill of tracking chimpanzees through the Kibale National Forest in Uganda; or swimming in the aquamarine ocean off the coast of Mozambique; or sharing a beer or seven with a group of Zambian football fans in a bar in upmarket Nairobi; or exploring an old Portuguese slaving fort one morning, and climbing a vertiginous volcano the next, while stranded on the isolated mid-Atlantic islands of Cape Verde. On second thoughts, this could be quite a lot of work…

Fishing boats line the shore in the former Portuguese slave port of Cidade Velha, Cape Verde, Africa

Fishing boats line the shore in the former Portuguese slave port of Cidade Velha, Cape Verde, Africa

…for the next few weeks I’ll be writing about my African wanderings and sharing some of my favourite photos, interspersed occasionally with more ‘news from nowhere’ here in the UK.

North London Street Art

I have a fascination with street art, particularly the sort with an overt message, political or otherwise. Anyone who has seen any of Banksey’s work will know the sort of direct or absurd statement that appeals.

I used to work near the Houses of Parliament; everyday I’d walk along the River Thames next to Westminster Bridge, where a group of stencilled rats carrying a rocket launcher and TNT seemed ready to blow up Parliament. A Guy Fawkes-esuqe satire on the relationship people have with politicians for our times. Another stencilled rat I passed every day en route to the office carried a sign simply saying, Go Back to Bed – a radical message to London’s commuters.

Street art between Finsbury Park and Highgate, London, England

Street art between Finsbury Park and Highgate, London, England

Sometimes though, it is difficult to interpret the meaning of some street art. I’m not suggesting that this is up there with the mysteries of the pyramids or the Sphinx, but occasionally I find myself smiling about some bizarre spray-painted riddle. On my recent walk up to Highgate from Finsbury Park, I came across a good example of this amongst lots of other spray paint creations. The message read:

Only Pickin Daisies, street art, London, England

Only Pickin Daisies, street art, London, England

Only Pickin Daisies, street art, London, England

Only Pickin Daisies, street art, London, England

Only Pickin Daisies, street art, London, England

Only Pickin Daisies, street art, London, England

It was written on the top of a wall on a road bridge…and made me laugh.

Only Pickin Daisies, street art, London, England

Only Pickin Daisies, street art, London, England

Amongst the rest of the work, was a piece I took as a swipe at the gentrified people who live in Islington, a spray paint pig and a street art Jackson Pollock.

Street art between Finsbury Park and Highgate, London, England

Street art between Finsbury Park and Highgate, London, England

Street art between Finsbury Park and Highgate, London, England

Street art between Finsbury Park and Highgate, London, England

Street art Imitates Jackson Pollock, London, England

Street art Imitates Jackson Pollock, London, England

London’s green links, Finsbury Park to Hampstead Heath…and a poem

Say what you like about London, but it has some of the best walking of any city in the country and, for a city this size, probably the world. One of the ‘hidden’ joys of living here is that you can find walking routes all over the city, often avoiding the horrendous traffic…and, to give Londoners due credit, the people of this city walk further on average each year than residents of any other part of the United Kingdom. Hard to believe, but true.

When I moved to London twelve years ago, I lived at a friend’s flat in Finsbury Park for six months. Having just returned to London after fourteen months in Latin America, I find myself a guest of her hospitality again. Named after a Victorian-era park, Finsbury Park is an area of great ethnic and cultural diversity. There is a particularly large Turkish community – making it the area to head to for good Turkish food.

The New River, Finsbury Park, London, England

The New River, Finsbury Park, London, England

Sign between Finsbury Park and Highgate, London, England

Sign between Finsbury Park and Highgate, London, England

Finsbury Park opened in 1869, in response to the needs of an ever expanding and urbanised population, but inside the park is a clue to a more extensive history…also responding to the increasing urbanisation of London: The New River. Although separated by 250 years, both the river and the park give an indication of the needs of Londoners as the city developed towards its current monstrous size.

Thankfully, modern-day city planners and politicians (with encouragement from environmental campaigners), have conspired to link many of London’s green spaces together. From Finsbury Park you can walk an urban trail, formerly a nineteenth century commuter railway line, unmolested by cars all the way to Highgate. Here, the ancient Highgate Wood awaits exploration.

The former railway line linking Finsbury Park and Highgate, London, England

The former railway line linking Finsbury Park and Highgate, London, England

Street art between Finsbury Park and Highgate, London, England

Street art between Finsbury Park and Highgate, London, England

Like most bits of London, the spray-paint mafia has been at work along the trail. If all street art is subversive, some is more political, with more social commentary, than others…

Street art between Finsbury Park and Highgate, London, England

Street art between Finsbury Park and Highgate, London, England

Once part of the huge Forest of Middlesex, and mentioned in the Doomsday Book, its a miracle that the small but lovely chunk of ancient forest that is Highgate Wood has survived into the twenty-first century. Wandering along its leaf-dappled trails, its easy to ignore the giant A1 road (or the Great North Way to give it its historic name) which passes nearby. From Highgate Wood its a short walk to Highgate Village, and one of the world’s most celebrated burial sites, Highgate Cemetery.

Highgate Wood, London, England

Highgate Wood, London, England

Highgate Wood, London, England

Highgate Wood, London, England

Road sign, Highgate, London, England

Road sign, Highgate, London, England

Even if we ignore all the literary giants buried in the cemetery, Highgate’s place in the literary world is assured: it was home of the Metaphysical poet Andrew Marvell, friend and colleague of John Milton, as well as the Romantic poet, and legendary opium addict, Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Like many others, I studied Marvell’s poem To His Coy Mistress at school. As a heartfelt plea to the carnal, it remains an all time favourites (see below).

Plaque to Andrew Marvell, Highgate, London, England

Plaque to Andrew Marvell, Highgate, London, England

House in Highgate, London, England

House in Highgate, London, England

Alms houses in Highgate, London, England

Alms houses in Highgate, London, England

Historic signs in Highgate, London, England

Historic signs in Highgate, London, England

Flowers and a light outside a pub in Highgate, London, England

Flowers and a light outside a pub in Highgate, London, England

House and gate, Highgate, London, England

House and gate, Highgate, London, England

Highgate Village is distinctive, not to say aloof, from the rest of London. It was a separate village until engulfed by urban sprawl, yet, thanks conservation efforts, it still maintains its historic feel. This fact, and its location on the edge of Hampstead Heath, makes it one of the most expensive places to live in London. Luckily it has a couple of nice pubs in which to rest and take the view of houses you’ll never be able to afford.
Pub sign, Highgate, London, England

Pub sign, Highgate, London, England

Refreshed, walk (un)steadily down hill for a short distance and, as if by magic, you’ll suddenly find yourself in the wondrous open spaces of Hampstead Heath, and its famous swimming ‘ponds’. Before injury scuppered my passion for running, I regularly ran on Hampstead Heath’s trails, up and down hills and through its woodland. Its a magical place to be, with views all the way to the giant skyscrapers in central London.

The view back to Highgate from Parliament Hill, Hampstead Heath, London, England

The view back to Highgate from Parliament Hill, Hampstead Heath, London, England

Returning to Highgate en route back to Finsbury Park, I noticed a skeleton in a window…

Skeleton in a window, Highgate, London, England

Skeleton in a window, Highgate, London, England

London is an ancient city, you don’t need to look far to find death. In Highgate that means Highgate Cemetery, but that is for another day…

…and here’s that Andrew Marvell poem:

Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, Lady, were no crime
We would sit down and think which way
To walk and pass our long love’s day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side
Shouldst rubies find: I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood,
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow;
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, Lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.
But at my back I always hear
Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song: then worms shall try
That long preserved virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust:
The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.
Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may,
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapt power.
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

Kendal, The Auld Grey Town

It may come as a surprise – it certainly came as one to me – but the term ‘black market’ is a Cumbrian invention.

Today, ‘black market’ is the trade in illegal goods. Several centuries ago in Cumbria it was the same, except it referred to the region’s most valuable mining commodity: graphite, known as ‘black lead’. It was the trade in illicit ‘black lead’ that gave rise to the term ‘black market’. Who knew?

Rifleman's pub, Kendal, Cumbria, England

Rifleman’s pub, Kendal, Cumbria, England

Houses in Kendal, Cumbria, England

Houses in Kendal, Cumbria, England

Houses in Kendal, Cumbria, England

Houses in Kendal, Cumbria, England

I know this little-known fact because I visited the Abbot Hall Museum in Kendal, which had a whole display on the mining industry in Cumbria. Its a small museum dedicated to the history of local life, but it has some genuinely fascinating displays. I didn’t realise how intensive mining was in the region from the sixteenth century onwards.

Nor did I realise that Cumbria was a major producer of bobbins to the cotton mills of Lancashire. The word ‘bobbin’ sounds ludicrous, but they were an integral part of the manufacture of cotton cloth. At it’s peak, in the mid-nineteenth century, the cotton industry supported sixty-four bobbin mills in Cumbria and employed thousands of people. This sort of information is why you should visit your local museum. Although you have to read the heritage plaques to discover that Kendal is host to the largest church in Cumbria…

Kendal Parish Church, Cumbria, England

Kendal Parish Church, Cumbria, England

Kendal Parish Church, Cumbria, England

Kendal Parish Church, Cumbria, England

Monument to the Glorious Revolution of 1688, Kendal, Cumbria, England

Monument to the Glorious Revolution of 1688, Kendal, Cumbria, England

Kendal is the largest town in southern Cumbria, it serves as the tourist gateway to the Lake District National Park. Its nickname, The Auld Grey Town, comes from the grey colour of the local limestone used in most buildings – although I always thought it was a reference to the grey skies and constant rain that seemed to accompany my childhood.

Stone stairway, Kendal, Cumbria, England

Stone stairway, Kendal, Cumbria, England

Chimneys in Kendal, Cumbria, England

Chimneys in Kendal, Cumbria, England

Strolling around Kendal requires effort – the town is built on hills – but it’s worth it to suddenly find yourself in a small seventeenth century alleyway; or going under an arch to the gardens of a former hospital built 1606; or standing in Colin Croft, one of the few surviving ‘yards’ preserving a unique architectural heritage in Kendal. Legend has it that they were constructed with narrow entrances to defend against Scottish attacks, but that’s a myth. They housed various industries and workshops, the reason for their unique design remains a mystery. Kendal also has a castle.

Kendal Castle, Kendal, Cumbria, England

Kendal Castle, Kendal, Cumbria, England

Kendal Castle, Kendal, Cumbria, England

Kendal Castle, Kendal, Cumbria, England

Kendal Castle, Kendal, Cumbria, England

Kendal Castle, Kendal, Cumbria, England

Kendal Castle was the home of the Parr family, and it was Catherine Parr who became Queen of England as Henry VIII’s sixth and final wife. I’d say that makes Catherine Kendal’s most famous former resident. Sadly by the mid-sixteenth century the castle was already in bad repair and was abandoned shortly afterwards. Things haven’t improved since – only a few sections of the walls and buildings remain, but the site of the castle is still impressive, on top of a steep hill with panoramic views over the town.

View over Kendal from Kendal Castle, Cumbria, England

View over Kendal from Kendal Castle, Cumbria, England

Catherine Parr, however, isn’t the most famous thing to come from Kendal. If you were to ask people today what Kendal was famous for, they’d probably say Kendal Mint Cake – the teeth rotting bars of peppermint infused sugar made famous as the snack of choice when Edmund Hillary climbed Everest in 1953.

Kendal Mint Cake, Cumbria, England

Kendal Mint Cake, Cumbria, England

A closer look at Kendal’s coat-of-arms gives a clue to the origins of the town’s greatest claim to fame. Teasels and bale hooks, both important tools of the wool trade, are represented on the coat-of-arms. The town motto reads “Cloth is my bread” because Kendal was famous for producing a hard-wearing woollen cloth known as ‘Kendal Green’.

‘Kendal Green’ was worn by Kendalian archers who played a critical role at the Battles of Crecy, Poitiers and Agincourt during the Hundred Years’ War between the feuding French nobility who ruled both France and England. ‘Kendal Green’ is also mentioned in Shakespeare’s Henry IV because it was traditional for foresters to wear it – and is probably why Errol Flynn wore green (including those fabulous tights) when playing Robin Hood.

Photograph of a sheep farmer and sheep, Abbott Hall Museum, Kendal, Cumbria, England

Photograph of a sheep farmer and sheep, Abbot Hall Museum, Kendal, Cumbria, England

Wool trade-related street sign, Kendal, Cumbria, England

Wool trade-related street sign, Kendal, Cumbria, England

More infamously, ‘Kendal Green’ formed one side of the triangular Trans-Atlantic slave trade: cloth from Kendal was bartered for slaves on the coast of Africa, who were then exchanged for sugar and tobacco produced by slaves in the Americas, which were shipped back to Kendal via the ports at Lancaster and Whitehaven. Alongside other exotic commodities from the Caribbean, these two products became the raw materials of two major Kendal industries – tobacco manufactured into snuff, and sugar to make Kendal Mint Cake. Even in sleepy little Kendal, its impossible to escape Britain’s role in the slave trade.

Entrance to Collin Croft, a unique architectural feature in Kendal, Cumbria, England

Entrance to Collin Croft, a unique architectural feature in Kendal, Cumbria, England

Collin Croft, a unique architectural feature in Kendal, Cumbria, England

Collin Croft, a unique architectural feature in Kendal, Cumbria, England

Plaque and postbox dedicated to Postman Pat, Kendal, Cumbria, England

Plaque and postbox dedicated to Postman Pat, Kendal, Cumbria, England

Postman Pat is a Kendalian, Kendal, Cumbria

Postman Pat is a Kendalian, Kendal, Cumbria

The River Kent bisects Kendal as it flows towards Morcambe Bay and the Irish Sea. Thanks to the unnaturally high rainfall in the hills surrounding Kendal, the river historically flooded vast areas of the town. As a child I remember seeing the water burst the banks of the river but, thanks to a river widening scheme, that is now a thing of the past.

The River Kent in Kendal, Cumbria, England

The River Kent in Kendal, Cumbria, England

Bridge over the River Kent, Kendal, Cumbria, England

Bridge over the River Kent, Kendal, Cumbria, England

Nineteenth century engineering en route to the Auld Grey Town

The Lancaster Canal is today a gentle reminder of the Industrial Revolution that erupted in Britain between the 1780s and 1830s, and which changed the landscape of this island forever.

Work on the canal started in 1794 and wasn’t completed until 1826, by which time the canal stretched from Preston in Lancashire to Kendal in Cumbria. Later still the canal was extended to the Leeds-Liverpool Canal, connecting Kendal, and all-points south, with the giant industrial cities of Lancashire and Yorkshire, and one of the world’s busiest ports at Liverpool. Although by this time the death-knell of the canal had been sounded by the construction of the first intercity railway in 1830.

The Lancaster Canal, Cumbria, England

The Lancaster Canal, Cumbria, England

As you walk its historic towpath today, passing through rolling countryside on the way to Kendal, its hard to imagine that this magnificent engineering feat was brought about by the rise of the industrial cities of Northern England. My destination, Kendal, is known as the Auld Grey Town thanks to its buildings being constructed from limestone – although it could equally refer to the terrible weather – was the most northerly point of the canal.

The Lancaster Canal, Cumbria, England

The Lancaster Canal, Cumbria, England

Kendal was a centre of cloth manufacture, as well as shoe and tobacco production, but the canal also linked several gunpowder works to the outside world. The gunpowder works in this part of the country were for mining rather than military use, and were still in existence in the 1930s. Kendal also provided the reason for the Lancaster Canal to remain commercially viable – until 1944 coal was delivered to Kendal Gas Works on the canal.

When I reached the small hamlet of Crooklands, I diverted off the canal to visit the Church of St. Partick which sits in splendid isolation on top of a hill and can be seen from miles away. Its a picturesque spot with commanding views (albeit of the M6 to the south), and is the final resting place of several generations of my family.

St. Patrick's Church, Crooklands, Cumbria, England

St. Patrick’s Church, Crooklands, Cumbria, England

Incomplete memory, St. Patrick's Church cemetery, Crooklands, Cumbria, England

Incomplete memory, St. Patrick’s Church cemetery, Crooklands, Cumbria, England

St. Patrick's Church cemetery, Crooklands, Cumbria, England

St. Patrick’s Church cemetery, Crooklands, Cumbria, England

St. Patrick's Church cemetery, Crooklands, Cumbria, England

St. Patrick’s Church cemetery, Crooklands, Cumbria, England

St. Patrick's Church cemetery, Crooklands, Cumbria, England

St. Patrick’s Church cemetery, Crooklands, Cumbria, England

Back on the canal again I headed north towards Kendal. The construction of this canal was special, it is one of Britain’s few ‘contour canals’. The canal follows the natural line of the landscape and consequently has very few locks going up and down hills. It means the canal is flat, making for easy walking. You can see contour construction in operation as you walk the route, although, sadly, the final section of the canal has been drained because of leakage.

What it lacks in locks is made up for by a tunnel at the village of Hincaster: at 378 yards its the longest tunnel on the Lancaster Canal. Like the rest of this northern section of the canal, the tunnel was opened in 1819 at the height of the Industrial Revolution.

Hincaster Tunnel, Lancaster Canal, Cumbria, England

Hincaster Tunnel, Lancaster Canal, Cumbria, England

Hincaster Tunnel, Lancaster Canal, Cumbria, England

Hincaster Tunnel, Lancaster Canal, Cumbria, England

Hincaster Tunnel, Lancaster Canal, Cumbria, England

Hincaster Tunnel, Lancaster Canal, Cumbria, England

There isn’t a towpath through the tunnel – the boats were either punted through or men would lay on their backs on the roof of the boat and ‘walk’ it through. There is a route over the top of the tunnel which was used by the horses which normally towed the boats. Walking over it today you also pass under the west coast railway line – these two forms of transport follow the same route.

After passing over the tunnel its possible to divert through a lovely country park, sliced in two by the River Kent on its way to the Irish Sea. Levens Park was completed in 1710 and is part of Levens Hall. It has a wonderful avenue of oak trees, many dating back to this period and on a good day you’ll spot deer and goats with huge horns in the park, although I didn’t see a single one. Levens Hall dates from the mid-fourteenth century, but much of the present building is from the reign of Elisabeth I.

A lost glove made into an offensive gesture, Levens Park, Cumbria, England

A lost glove made into an offensive gesture, Levens Park, Cumbria, England

A lost mitten can't make an offensive gesture, Levens Park, Cumbria, England

A lost mitten can’t make an offensive gesture, Levens Park, Cumbria, England

Avenue of ancient oaks, Levens Park, Cumbria, England

Avenue of ancient oaks, Levens Park, Cumbria, England

Levens Hall, Cumbria, England

Levens Hall, Cumbria, England

Levens Park, Cumbria, England

Levens Park, Cumbria, England

Once through Levens Park you can either rejoin the route of the canal or take a slightly longer route to Kendal which follows the River Kent. The weather was nice so I chose to do the latter.

Bridge over the River Kent, Cumbria, England

Bridge over the River Kent, Cumbria, England

On the banks of the River Kent, Cumbria, England

On the banks of the River Kent, Cumbria, England

Fungi on the River Kent, Cumbria, England

Fungi on the River Kent, Cumbria, England

Bridge over the River Kent, Cumbria, England

Bridge over the River Kent, Cumbria, England

After nearly five hours of walking I finally reached Kendal to be greeted by its Coat of Arms next to Nether Bridge, which dates back to the fourteenth century. The three span bridge was completed in 1772 and widened in 1908, but still retains the 1772 elements. More on the Auld Grey Town soon…

Nether Bridge, Kendal, Cumbria, England

Nether Bridge, Kendal, Cumbria, England

Kendal Town Coat-of-Arms, Cumbria, England

Kendal Town Coat-of-Arms, Cumbria, England

La Paz to the North of England

As far as memorable departures go, leaving La Paz by air is as dramatic as any in the world. We were at the airport early, I mean before 3am, to check in and deal with immigration. We’d overstayed our residency visa by several days and although people more experienced at this sort of thing had told us not to worry, we were expecting trouble. In the end we were allowed to leave with a stern ticking-off and a US$45 fine – each.

After sitting around for an eternity in the world’s smallest international departures lounge, we finally boarded our American Airlines flight to Miami and our connection to London. The real joy of this flight all happens minutes after take off: the sun had just risen and from the window of the plane you get a birds-eye-view of the vast, snow-capped Andean peaks of the Cordillera Real. Its a mesmerising sight and a fitting farewell to a mesmerising country.

If you want to know how huge these mountains really are, I give you the picture below…there is a plane in the picture, I promise.

A plane, looking tiny and insignificant, flies over Illimani, Cordillera Real, Bolivia

A plane, looking tiny and insignificant, flies over Illimani, Cordillera Real, Bolivia

The Cordillera Real seen from 5400 metres on Chacaltaya, Bolivia

The Cordillera Real seen from 5400 metres on Chacaltaya, Bolivia

A little over thirty hours later we arrived in London. There was no time for jet lag – we had things to do and people to see. Three days in London flew past in a whirlwind of lunches and drinks with friends and family (very expensive lunches and drinks after living in Bolivia). Before you could say, “How much is a pint a Guinness?” in a tone of utter surprise, we were off again for a brief stop in Great Malvern.

A couple of days later I finally departed for the frozen wastes of the north – summer doesn’t always make an appearance in this part of the world and the sun was making very little effort to shine the day I arrived.

Farleton Knott, a huge wedge-shaped lump of limestone, Cumbria, England

Farleton Knott, a huge wedge-shaped lump of limestone, Cumbria, England

Living in London I always knew I was back in my part of north west England when I saw Farleton Knott, a wedged-shaped hill that is a local landmark letting you know you’re back in the county of Cumbria. The village where my family lives nestles in the Knott’s shadow, and there is always something welcoming in its unusual shape.

On a good day, and in good weather, from the top of Farleton Knott it is possible to see for miles: to the west the Isle of Man is visible across the Irish Sea; to the north the mountains of the Lake District; and to the east Ingleborough, the highest peak in the Yorkshire Dales. This time, glimpsed from the train window, the sight of Farleton Knott was like the full stop at the end of our adventure to Bolivia.

The view over southern Cumbria from Farleton Knott, England

The view over southern Cumbria from Farleton Knott, England

Although I would have loved to have been in Latin America still, after fourteen months away I was happy to see this old acquaintance again, and immediately decided I needed to get my walking boots out of the bottom of my bag.

Latin America…14 months in 14 photographs

Its almost impossible to sum up our experiences in fourteen photographs, but these represent some of our favourite places and events from our time in Latin America.

Bolivia’s most colourful and unusual fiesta in San Ignacio de Moxos

San Ignacio is a small town, little more than a village really, in the Bolivian Amazon. Today it is a sleepy place, largely inaccessible during the rains, which acts as a hub for cattle ranches in the surrounding countryside. Its Amazonian history plays an important part in the fiesta, and combines traditional Amazonian beliefs and dress with Catholic beliefs. One of the more extraordinary elements of the fiesta are characters known as Achus who bring mayhem to the village during the fiesta. One trick they play is to attach fireworks to their hats and then run wildly through the crowds. This photo is of an Achus doing just that.

The Bolivian South West

Its almost impossible to imagine the raw beauty of this region in the south west corner of Bolivia. High mountains streaked with colour are reflected in lakes, that themselves range from turquoise to blood red, where flamingos make their home and Andean foxes roam. Set at altitudes that rarely drop below 4000 metres, it is a region that leaves you breathless. In the north lies the vast salt flats of Uyuni, and in the south, Laguna Verde, tinged blue-green by chemical reaction. In-between lie hundreds of kilometres of the most dazzling landscape. It has to be seen to be believed.

Parque Nacional Sajama, Bolivia

Bolivia’s oldest national park is home to herds of llama, alpaca and vicuna, which roam this barren region and have provided a livelihood for generations of people living here. The park is also home to several volcanoes, including the highest mountain in Bolivia, Vulcan Sajama, which can be climbed during the dry season. It is also home to some amazing colonial-era adobe churches and numerous chulpas, pre-hispanic funerary towers that are fascinating in their own right.

The Virgen de Guadalupe festival, Sucre, Bolivia

Three days and nights of dancing, singing, music and costumed parades…not to mention delicious street food and drinking with wild abandon. The Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe is one of Bolivia’s most important. It winds its way around the streets of Sucre from early morning to late night. Performers spend several hours dancing their way towards the city centre before the dance troupe routines come to a climax in the Plaza 25 de Mayo. The culmination of festivities is at the cathedral where the statue of the Virgen de la Guadalupe, resplendent in silver and semi-precious stones, awaits the tired performers.

Trekking in the Corillera Real, Bolivia

A multi-day trek through this vast Andean wilderness, passing glacier fed lakes and tiny llama farming villages, all the time overshadowed by giant, snow-capped mountains, is an extraordinary experience. At the end of a hard day’s walking, wrapping up warm and watching the galaxies appear in a night sky untouched by neon makes all the effort worth it. You’re more likely to see llamas than other human beings, but that’s what wilderness trekking is all about.

Watching the sun rise from the summit of Huyana Potosi, Bolivia

At 6088 metres in altitude, Huyana Potosi is considered to be one of the easiest 6000m mountains in the world to climb. ‘Easy’ is a relative word when it comes to mountains, and reaching the summit of Huyana Potosi was an endurance test like none I’ve experienced before, particularly since the last 300m of the climb is along a narrow ice ledge with sheer drops off both sides. The exhausting climb and freezing temperatures were rewarded with absolutely stunning views over the Cordillera Real as the sun rose to illuminate a world wreathed in snow and mist.

Driving through the Atacama Desert in Northern Chile

Without really understanding the immensity of the Atacama Desert, we decided to hire a car and drive ourselves around this amazing region. The photograph is of the Mano del Desierto, a sculpture that suddenly appears in the midst of the sun-bleached desert like a beacon of hope to weary drivers. The Atacama is the driest place on earth, some areas haven’t received rain in thousands of years, yet humans have also eked out an existence in this region for millennia. Today that tradition continues with miners working in some of the most inhospitable conditions known to humankind.

Parque Nacional Nevado de Tres Cruces, Chile

Northern Chile is dominated by the Atacama Desert, yet dotted throughout it are desert oases, abandoned nitrate towns, cosmopolitan ocean-side cities and pristine beaches formed along the mighty Pacific Ocean. Head away from the ocean and you suddenly find yourself climbing into a high altitude world where mountains and lakes are brightly coloured by chemicals in the soil. It is here you’ll find the Parque Nacional Nevado de Tres Cruces, a place of exceptional beauty, and the chances are that you’ll have it to yourselves – hardly anyone makes the journey to reach this remote area.

Machu Picchu, Peru

Perhaps the best known archeological site in the world, I was worried Machu Picchu would be something of a disappointment. I needn’t have feared. Set high on a plateau and overlooked by towering mountains, this lost city of the Inca is a magical place. The photo below is taken from the Sun Gate which forms part of the Inca Trail. Even if you can’t do the trail itself, its worth walking to the Sun Gate to get the view most Incas would have had as they approached the city.

Nazca cemetery, Nazca, Peru

Nazca is known for its monumental pre-Hispanic lines in the desert, yet they form only one (albeit stunning) remnant of the former civilisation that lived in this inhospitable region for thousands of years prior to the emergence of the Inca empire. Drive south of Nazca into the desert and you will come to a huge site where the Nazca culture buried their dead. What makes the cemetery so poignant and moving, is that the remains of the dead are so well preserved and yet surrounded by nothing but desolate desert.

The San Blas Islands, Panama

Picture perfect islands floating in the turquoise waters of the Caribbean. There has been little development on the islands because they are controlled and governed by the indigenous peoples who inhabit them. Don’t expect luxury hotels and all-inclusive spa packages, do expect peace and quiet, good seafood, white sand beaches without anyone else and bathwater warm sea in which to swim and snorkel. A small slice of paradise.

Cartagena des Indias, Colombia

It is difficult to describe just how lovely Cartagena des Indias on the Caribbean coast of Colombia is, but after a few hours of strolling around the city it had captured our hearts. Cartagena is an extraordinarily well preserved colonial city, with a history as long as Europeans have been involved in the Americas. It has been the scene of pirate attacks, terrible torture under the Spanish Inquisition and suffered at the hands of colonial Spain for declaring its independence long before the rest of Colombia. Walk its beautiful streets, day and night, and absorb the atmosphere and history as you go.

Little Corn Island, Nicaragua

We fell in love with Nicaragua, and if we could spend a year abroad again I suspect Nicaragua would be very high on the list of places we wanted to go. We visited the delightful colonial city of Granada, perched on Lago Nicaragua; time stopped and so did we in Pearl Lagoon; El Castillo and the Reserva Biologico Indio-Maiz were wonderful places to spend time. In the end though, Little Corn Island was paradise itself – delicious fresh seafood, incredible beaches, relaxed locals and, best of all, not a single motor vehicle anywhere.

The Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia

I agonised over having another photo from Nicaragua, but in the end you can’t leave out one of the natural wonders of the world. The Uyuni salt flats are simply amazing. A vast salt pan burned white under the intense Andean sun, it scorches your eyes just to look at it. It is impossible to truly imagine what the salt flats look like unless you’ve been there, an endless alien landscape that is like nothing else on earth.

Goodbye Bolivia, so long and thanks for all the Aranjuez

So this is it, my last Bolivian blog. We’ve been in Bolivia or travelling around South and Central America for the last fourteen months…apparently all good things do come to an end, even if you don’t want them to. It has been an amazing year and I’m grateful we’ve had the opportunity to spend time in such a wonderful country and travel through this incredible region.

We’re very sad to be leaving warm and welcoming Bolivia, leaving our new friendships and new associations behind, for the time being; but we have to return to London. Dreary old London. It will be lovely to see our families and friends again, but that doesn’t lesson the sadness we feel…even though we know we’ll be back one day.

Our hearts will remain in Latin America even if our minds have to return to reality in London…

A heart in the Atacama Desert, Chile

A heart in the Atacama Desert, Chile

Viva La Paz, countdown to departure

La Paz is a city like no other. Snow-capped mountains form a surreal backdrop to the city, while gravity-defying houses tumble down the side of the crater in a way that is both beautiful and terrifying. In the bottom of the crater the city sprawls north and south down roads clogged with fume-belching, horn-blaring buses and taxis, the drivers of which have absolutely no respect for pedestrians or other vehicles. Its a miracle there aren’t more fatalities.

Bolivian coat of arms, Plaza Murillo, La Paz, Bolivia

Bolivian coat of arms, Plaza Murillo, La Paz, Bolivia

La Paz with Illimani in the background, Bolivia

La Paz with Illimani in the background, Bolivia

Houses and Illimani at sunset, La Paz, Bolivia

Houses and Illimani at sunset, La Paz, Bolivia

The streets are filled with bowler hatted chollas, their huge skirts swishing as they walk; coca leaf-chewing campesinos rub shoulders with suited businesspeople; tattooed and pierced young people fill restaurants to eat traditional food; shoeshine boys inquire about polishing your Habanas; and the street markets sell everything from a hundred types of potato to dried llama fetuses and magical powders that make people fall in love with you.

A woman walks past street art, La Paz, Bolivia

A woman walks past street art, La Paz, Bolivia

Bowler-hatted Chollas in La Paz, Bolivia

Bowler-hatted Chollas in La Paz, Bolivia

La Paz street scene, Bolivia

La Paz street scene, Bolivia

La Paz street art, Bolivia

La Paz street art, Bolivia

All of this frenetic activity takes place at the breathless altitude of 3600m. In winter it is bitterly cold once the sun disappears, in summer it rains so hard that almost every year houses and roads are washed away – often with the loss of life. There is great poverty, especially in El Alto, and extravagant wealth on display almost everywhere you look. My first few days in the city left me feeling disoriented.

Posing for a photograph with pigeons in Plaza Murillo, La Paz, Bolivia

Posing for a photograph with pigeons in Plaza Murillo, La Paz, Bolivia

Street art, La Paz, Bolivia

Street art, La Paz, Bolivia

A woman sits outside a church in Plaza San Pedro, La Paz, Bolivia

A woman sits outside a church in Plaza San Pedro, La Paz, Bolivia

X-ray llama, La Paz, Bolivia

X-ray llama, La Paz, Bolivia

Campesino women with children, La Paz, Bolivia

Campesino women with children, La Paz, Bolivia

Electrical cables, La Paz, Bolivia

Electrical cables, La Paz, Bolivia

Alcohol and sex sell, La Paz, Bolivia

Alcohol and sex sell, La Paz, Bolivia

The more time I’ve spent here though, the more I have grown to love the city and its people. It is a place that slowly gains your affection, and although we chose to live in more genteel Sucre, it is La Paz that, to me, encompasses and defines all of Bolivia. It is also a city where you don’t have to look far for a photo opportunity. I spent a couple of days just wandering the streets in-between packing our bags in preparation for our return to London.

Street art, La Paz, Bolivia

Street art, La Paz, Bolivia

Posters, La Paz, Bolivia

Posters, La Paz, Bolivia

A bar advertising John Lennon's "Let it beer", La Paz, Bolivia

A bar advertising John Lennon’s “Let it beer”, La Paz, Bolivia

Street advertising, La Paz, Bolivia

Street advertising, La Paz, Bolivia

Chollas and street food, La Paz, Bolivia

Chollas and street food, La Paz, Bolivia

The other great thing about La Paz is that you can walk around and suddenly find yourself embroiled in a local fiesta. Several times we came across bands and costumed performers playing and parading just in their own barrios. These events are frequently accompanied by heavy drinking; there was one man in the fiesta below who, despite the best efforts of his family to sober him up, was so drunk he could barely walk.

They like to party in La Paz…viva Bolivia.

Fiesta, La Paz, Bolivia

Fiesta, La Paz, Bolivia

Fiesta, La Paz, Bolivia

Fiesta, La Paz, Bolivia

Fiesta, La Paz, Bolivia

Fiesta, La Paz, Bolivia

Fiesta, La Paz, Bolivia

Fiesta, La Paz, Bolivia

Fiesta, La Paz, Bolivia

Fiesta, La Paz, Bolivia

Fiesta, La Paz, Bolivia

Fiesta, La Paz, Bolivia

The drunkest man in the parade…moments after this he just collapsed and the parade went on without him.

Fiesta, La Paz, Bolivia

Fiesta, La Paz, Bolivia