Monthly Archives: September 2017

The Pied Piper of….San Pedro…sort of!

So, with the beautiful fresh early desert Chilean air gently being warmed up by the sun I set off on a gently run again, this time intending not to get lost.  I headed out on the first road turning right of the main high street and decided to follow it as far as I could.  It was a pleasant dusty road between the low buildings that gradually gave way to fields and less urban buildings (if you can call the main buildings of San Pedro particularly urban looking) occasionally coming across a smart building of a more wealthy homestead.  Occasional horses and cattle over the mound that passes for the equivalent to an English hedgerow.  I can definitely feel the difference with the air being thinner, but it doesn’t feel to bad and i was comfortable and enjoying my run.  I became aware after about 10 minutes that I ha company.  A couple of dogs were enthusiastically running at my heels, a black one and and sandy/black one – both similar breed looking to a small Alsatian.  If you could say that a dog was smiling, then both of them were, bounding along behind me, beside me and occasionally sprinting ahead of me.  Occasionally so close to my heels that they nearly tripped me up on more than one occasion.  I felt buoyed by my running companions and their enthusiasm didn’t seem to waiver the longer I kept going.  The road eventually forked into two and we headed left which would start taking me up round the top of the town (assuming my directions were better than yesterday) – I soon became aware that my running group had grown from 2 to 5 dogs, all frisking around me as if we did this together everyday.   I don’t know what kind of sight I must have presented to the occasional Atacamanian who whizzed past on a bicycle or in a truck, but as we headed around the top of the town I felt like I should have a set of pipes as 5 briefly became 7.  I worried that they acutally belonged to someone and I was going to be suddenly chased down by some erstwhile owner screaming at me in Spanish.  This thankfully didn’t happen.  As we turned down the far side of the town (my sense of direction bang on form this morning) i was back with just my two original and now faithful companions.  The end of my run was approaching and I was worried about parting company with them!  I needn’t have worried, they had no such qualms and suddenly they were no longer with me and the last couple of miles back to my hotel were just me and the noise of a town creaking back to life.  I’d quite like to take them on the race with me – they were good spirit lifters.  It will have to be a memory stored to call upon when the chips are down.

So the official instructions for the race are now being issued in timetabled form.  My hotel that I have been in all week has been taken over by race volunteers.  I had to check out by 11am and hefted mybags up through town which seems a lot bigger when weighed down by luggage, to the race hotel for competitors.  It is a big smart hotel, with a lush swimming pool.  However check in is not allowed before 2pm and I was almost worried that they weren’t going to let me leave my bags at the hotel, and have to carry them with me for 3 hours!  There are a few runners in evidence – already all wearing running kit.  I’m always of the opinion that before a race like this it is nice to wear normal clothes as I’m going to be living in the same running gear for the next 8 days!   I have headed back out to my favourite cafe on the main square, for real(ish) coffee and jugas naturales (fresh fruit juice).  I gamble with the fruit juice as am never entirely sure what I have ordered but it always tastes delicious.

Well folks, this is my last main blog before the race.  All things official start tomorrow with race debriefing and check-in where our kit is checked and we sign our waivers etc.  Hopefully you have all found your way to the 4Deserts website where there are links to follow the race live, to leave a message on my desert blog, or SEND AN EMAIL to me whilst I am in the desert.  

I’m excited, nervous but thrilled to be here, looking forward to running through this wonderful Chilean landscape and to meeting some new and equally crazy people.  See you out there!

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Lost in San Pedro de Atacama…out running!

Ok – so I know I said this is a very small town, and therefore one would imagine it is not easy to get particularly lost.  Well lost is perhaps too strong a description, I think disorientated is perhaps more accurate.

So as the dawn hailed yet another bright blue sky this morning, I set off bright an early to stretch out my old legs and go for a gentle run.  I turned off the high street, and down a pleasant dusty red road, with adobe red walls hiding behind them yet more hotels and hostels.  The occasional big 4×4 steaming past me, heading off on some tour.  I tuned down a different road, and then another thinking I was keeping the mountains distinctly to my left in the distance.  I was aware that my surroundings were becoming slightly less touristy and more locally residential as there were less and less hotel signs.  There was a delicious smell of freshly baked bread, and I could hear chatter and voices behind the orange dusty walls.  I thought that running a long a sort of firm road would indicate it was a main road, but I was wrong.  And I suddenly realised my surroundings were becoming distinctly rural and smallholding like….turning round I completely couldn’t work out which direction I should be taking.  Other than the mountains there are no obvious landmarks that are visible as very few buildings venture up to a second storey…I decided to trust my vague sense of direction and my own personalised tour of what were clearly the outskirts of San Pedro.  When I hit the highway I figured I should try and head back into town…and attempted to retrace my steps – but not really understanding the signposts of local areas in town I was a bit nonplussed, but kept running on. A small football stadium, a school and a rather smart looking children’s playground later and I still had no idea how to get back into the centre….and when I say centre I just mean the other side of town where my hotel was – probably not more than a couple of miles in the right direction.  I eventually stopped and asked an old toothless man who was watching me (probably with some bemusement).  He set me off in what I hoped was the right direction and I eventually recognised round the very next bend some familiar sights and headed down what was the Main Street right down to the other end to my hotel.

San Pedro is a mystifying town.  Hotels and hostels and campsites are everywhere and what it must be like in the high season is a wonderment.  It feels lik a cross between a ski resort or a small African town in the foothills of Kilimanjaro, gently moving through each day and time in general at its own pace.  Literally no one seems in a rush to do anything, and folks generally seem to be loitering with friendly intent.  Wondering around late at night after my dinner yesterday, felt safe and easy and untroubling – just soaking up the noise from bars and restaurants and the general happy atmosphere.  A few weeks ago an Argentinian warned me about going to Chile – when I asked him why, he said oh, because it is full of Chileans.  Well I have since read a bit more about the country and I have met its people.  And so far my verdict is that it is a most beautiful country and the people could not be more lovely, happy or distinctly peaceful.  The music they sing, carries their personality in its heart I feel with the beautiful lilting songs, the drums, guitars and panpipes/flutes – our music and pop star wannabes could certainly learn a thing or two.  In the evenings there are musicians roving the streets and restaurants and they stop here and there to play.  It is enchantingly fun and happy.  As I write this blog, sitting in one of the main square cafes (in fact one of the only ones that I have found that serves real coffee) there are groups of students, locals just sitting on the park walls, and various groups have someone who has a guitar and there are various songs creating a background soundtrack that is really rather pleasant.  How wrong that Argentinian was – and I shall forget everything he told me.

The one thing that completely mystifies me is the dogs.  They are simply everywhere, all the time.  They don’t seem to be a nuisance to anyone, and actually a lot of the time they are just lying flaked out in the hot sunshine. when I was running this morning, they were often loitering outside a closed door.  They mill about in the main streets , the side street, outside restaurants, outside anywhere.  There are some inside my hotel grounds, who seem to come and go as they please.  Some of them seem to be wearing collars, but they don’t really seem to belong to anyone.  They seem playful at times with people as well as with each other, and they have big dopey expressions – it feels like San Pedro would be empty without them!

So one more day to go of relaxing in the sunshine.  I haven’t seen that many other runners about, but I imagine everyone is doing last minute kit checks etc. Going for the occasional run.  Maybe some have gone out on tours – I kind of figure that as we are about to go on our own very exclusive tour of the desert that it is unnecssary to do one of these tours.  So I’m going for gentle runs and kit checking, hydrating, and relaxing.  The calm before the storm so to speak!


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Finally, arrived in San Pedro de Atacama

Well, finally after about 36 hours of travelling on 3 planes, 2 buses, 1 car, and a mad but fruitless dash across Santiago airport I arrived in the dusty desert “town” of San Pedro de Atacama. 

I query the classification of town, as upon arrival (after a very fast drive in mini-bus from Calama Airport) you are immediately struck by the low height of buildings in orange dusty stone, and the almost immediate change from tarmac road to well, not tarmac road as you enter.  We took the first right down a bumpy road, then right again and the signs on buildings indicating behind their plain and unassuming facades were lodges and hotels.  I assumed we were on the outskirts and were going to drop someone off at a outskirts sort of hotel, when we pulled up at the Takha Takha Lodge Hotel where I am based until moving to the race hotel on Friday.  I chose this hotel because it stated it was right in the centre of town.  It is a very small town! This street that my hotel is on the Main Street running right through the centre of the town and takes about 10-15 minutes to walk the length of it.  It is a small pleasant hotel, very reminiscent to me of the lodge I stayed in, in Arusha in Tanzania when about to climb Kilimanjaro in 2006 – and doesn’t feel any the more modern.  I am in a deluxe room with a private bathroom – I figured that due to the task I am about to undertake and that I am older than I was I would enjoy a bit of extra comfort – I am curious as to what makes mine deluxe next to a non-deluxe as from the outside each hut/lodge looks the same size.  But it is clean, a ridiculously comfortable bed and has hot water – no more is needed.  

After a much welcomed test of the water facilities I ventured out to the ‘towncentre’ – and was amazed to see a couple of blocks up that there was a North Face shop and across the street from it a shop selling other such outdoor high tech gear.  San Pedro de Atacama is definitely the tourist hotspot of the north of Chile and tourists venture here for all sorts of adventures up into the desert and the altiplano on horseback, sand surfing, bikes, organised tours, hikes – only once a year do a bunch of 100 lunatic runners attempt to run across the desert.  So it is no wonder that these outdoor brands have scooped up a small niche market here.

A very pleasant steak, with exceedingly dry boiled rice and a smooth glass of merlot, accompanied by music played on Bolivian panpipes by a local all went down very well, and I returned to my snug hotel lodge for a much needed and long sleep.

I have met and spotted a few more desert runners.  2 Canadians, and Irish girl, and have definitely spied a few walking up and down the high street!

So, in order for you folks to follow the race from Sunday, and to send me an email in the desert you will need to go to the 4Deserts website: 

There under the Atacama Crossing 2017, you should find the links to SEND AN EMAIL, to a runner, or you find my name and the link should be there – so you either send an email, or leave a message on the race blog that I will be hopefully posting each day (a specific race blog assigned to each runner) – I will also be emailing my brother who will hopefully post my blog entries here on these pages for you to follow…

Any message you are able to send me will be gratefully received by me, it is always a massive boost to morale and motivation to read whatever you have to say.

Right – I am off now to find a cafe that sells real coffee and not Nescafé (a common problem in Chile apparently).

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On route to Chile to cross the Atacama…

Well it is 18.38 and I am sat in Heathrow Terminal 5.  I took off from Cornwall this morning at 12:00hours, after a tight hug from my lovely Mummy.  Touched down at Gatwick at 13:10, got a but at 14:05 to Heathrow which dropped me off at 15:00hours, and here I still am until 21.55 this evening when my flight to Santiago, Chile takes off.  A flight which takes about 14 hours, followed by an internal flight and a bus journey all the way to San Pedro de Atacama.  To be honest, the journey to get to the Atacama Desert, which I am going to endeavour to run/shuffle/plod my way across feels like an ultra marathon all on its own!  

Ah, the delights of the fellow man when travelling today.  To be honest I am impressed at the minimal amount of queuing I have had to do here in Heathrow – it is all running like clockwork.  Although, the security check officer did look at my hand luggage rucksack for a long time – I assume he was trying to discern what everything in it is as it is packed very tightly and is full.  Once again the race organisers put the fear of lost baggage into us and so as much as possible goes into hand luggage.  I have every faith that my hold luggage will arrive with me in Chile and make it all the way to the Atacama at the same time.  Even so I confess that I have every item that is allowed into hand luggage with me – all bar the food…that is in the hold and I am going to pray to the Chilean gods to not lose my luggage and allow me to take my food into their country! They have very strict rules.

So, some might say that running across 1 desert in a year is mad, and that 2 is certifiable.  I know my family, colleagues and friends things I am slightly insane.  But with all the delightful news in the UK, and around the world I must confess that I am quite looking forward to going somewhere that I can forget about Brexit and which politician is stabbing another one in the back, NHS pay caps, world leaders practising hitting red buttons, hurricanes and displaced people.  I think being in the remote and extraordinary Atacama Desert is going to be just the tonic, even if I have got to run across it.

I was quite pleased when checking in my luggage in Cornwall, that my rucksack for the desert weighed in at just over 5kg – there is very little to add to its contents from my main luggage – so a big thank you goes out to Kevin, Aiden & Matt for lending me some super light kit in the form of a sleeping mat, sleeping bag and spoon!  Guys you are legends, my kit will weigh about 1kg lighter than in the Sahara just because of this.

But at this point, the biggest thank you goes out o my darling mummy who has spent the last week sewing 4Desert logo patches and Union Jack patches onto all the sleeves of my running kit – every top has to have flags on each arm!  It has not been an easy task, and although they are slightly wonky (you try sewing onto a down jacket a stiff embroidered square patch) they look pretty fantastic.  

So there we are, I will be blogging throughout this week, in my build up to the race which starts on Sunday 1st October, and I will post a blog detailing how you can follow the race, send me a message etc.  It is a much smaller race, only 104 competitors, so I expect that there will be many stretches when I will be plodding along on my own, and knowing that you are all following the race will give me a big big boost.

I am continuing to run my races this year for MSF (Medicins sans Frontieres) who continue to go and give medical care and support to all those people surviving conflicts and desperate situations everyday.  Working in an oncology department at the Royal Cornwal Hospital I see and care for people everyday dealing with a horrible disease – but the care the NHS continues to provide is wonderful and more importantly available – not everyone is that lucky.

Many of you have already sponsored me for when I run the MDS in April, and I am incredibly grateful to you for your support and generosity.  If you haven’t yet sponsored me but would like to do so my sponsorship page is still up and running, and you can donate by going to the following link:


I will be so grateful for any donation you can make.

Much love to you all.

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