What you can achieve when you believe you can…

Book Title: Eight Feet in the Andes: Travels with a Mule in Unknown Peru

Author: Dervla Murphy

Book Cover - Eight Feet in the Andes
Source: goodreads.com

Promotional Blurb: The eight feet belong to Dervla Murphy, her nine-year-old daughter Rachel and Juana, an elegant mule, who together clambered the length of Peru, from Cajamarca near the border with Ecuador, to Cuzco, the ancient Inca capital, over 1300 miles to the south. 

With only the most basic necessities to sustain them and spending most of their time above 10,000 feet, their journey was marked by extreme discomfort, occasional danger and even the temporary loss of Juana over a precipice. Yet mother and daughter, a formidable duo, were unflagging in their sympathetic response to the perilous beauty and impoverished people of the Andes.

In this extraordinary adventure, Dervla Murphy is at her intrepid best, facing up to the terrors, horrors and joys of her journey along the mountain pathsSource

My Thoughts:  To date, I have not travelled anywhere in South America and have read very little about this continent. Spotting this book in a second hand bookstore was the perfect opportunity to remedy this situation. The fact that the book was about a walking adventure made it even more appealing!

This is an eye-opening read. Their bravery or downright foolhardiness is as breathtaking as the scenery they scramble through. I do not know if I am more in awe of Dervla for her unquestioning belief that walking 1300 miles through the Andes is an interesting and enjoyable way to spend ten weeks of your life OR her daughter Rachel who merrily and uncomplainingly traipsed along after her mother. The adventurous spirit must be a genetic thing and I suspect you could count on one hand the number of other nine year olds in the World who would willingly follow a parent through such terrain and under such conditions.

Murphy is quoted as saying, “the hardships and poverty of my youth had been a good apprenticeship for this form of travel. I had been brought up to understand that material possessions and physical comfort should never be confused with success, achievement and security”. Wise words.

Amidst all the blood, sweat and tears, Murphy waxes lyrical about the breathtaking natural scenery and at times, struggles to find enough superlatives to describe what she is seeing. Luckily for the reader she knows to check herself and balances much of the floral prose with snippets of historical information as they follow the path of the early Spanish conquistadores.

A really enjoyable read that is a good mix of adventure, stunning landscape, human mishaps, history and reflections about colonial invasion. I gave it 8/10.

Dervla Murphy
Source: bbc.co.uk

Author bio: Dervla Murphy was born on 28 November 1931 of parents whose families were both settled in Dublin as far back as can be traced.  Her grandfather and most of his family were involved in the Irish Republican movement.  Her father was appointed Waterford County Librarian in 1930 after three years internment in Wormwood Scrubs prison and seven years at the Sorbonne.  Her mother was invalided by arthritis when Dervla was one year old.

She was educated at the Ursuline Convent in Waterford until she was fourteen, when, because of the wartime shortage of servants, she left to keep house for her father and to nurse her mother.  Dervla did this for sixteen years with occasional breaks bicycling on the Continent.

Her mother’s death left her free to go farther afield and in 1963 she cycled to India.  There she worked with Tibetan refugee children before returning home after a year to write her first two books.

Dervla Murphy’s first book, Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle, was published in 1965. Over 20 other titles have followed. Dervla has won worldwide praise for her writing and has been described as a ‘travel legend’ and ‘the first lady of Irish cycling’. Now in her 80s, she continues to travel around the world and remains passionate about politics, conservation, bicycling and beer. Source

Author blog or website: not found

Pages:  320

Published: First edition, 1983

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton General Division

Available from: Book Depository (from $14.)

#travelinspo #armchairtravel #armchairadventure

The Luck of the Irish

Some people lay claim to convict heritage on even the most remote branch of their family tree. I like to think Irish blood runs through my veins but I am kidding myself too.Guiness

My love affair with all things Irish (Riverdance, van Morrison, U2, Guiness) culminated in my first ever cycling adventure. I started off, over-packed, under-trained and over-optimistic about both the weather (warm and mild as promoted by the Irish prayer) and the hills (gentle and rolling). Before my departure from Australia, I would explain in suitably Irish fashion that I intended to ride only the downhill sections of Ireland. If only that were possible.

I think I was the first person in the history of Ireland to cycle around the island in an anti-clockwise direction. Traveling solo, I was desperate to meet other keen cyclists but the handful I did see were all riding in the opposite direction, i.e. clockwise. A quick wave, perhaps a hello, and they slipped from view.

Giant's Causeway
Giant’s Causeway. Souce: Wikipedia

I hugged the coastline, pedalling my way from Belfast to the Giant’s Causeway, to Bushmills and on to Londonderry (or Derry if you still despise the English). Yes, Bushmills is the namesake of the whisky although I distinctly remember spending most of the time at the Distillery in the ladies’ toilets – stripped to within inches of decency – and standing under (as best I could) the hot air hand dryer. That day’s ride featured rain so hard and consistent that my shoes filled and overflowed and I was rinsed clean more thoroughly than the best German-designed washing machine. So much for my dreams of soft Irish weather.

I must have seemed a little odd to the locals – a single woman, riding solo, anti-clockwise. Striking up a conversation, the Irish would marvel that I was riding so far (only 50-60kms a day) and then comment “I don’t even travel that far on my holidays”. They are in for a rude shock if they ever come to Australia.

One thing about cycling, a bit like walking, is that you have plenty of time to think. I roll along, or struggle along depending on the terrain, and my mind wanders to all that I see. It also gives me the perfect opportunity to develop theories of how the world works. Very quickly, I developed a theory relating to Irish signs. My theory is that there is a factory somewhere in Ireland that manufactures distance markers but to save hassle, the same distance is printed on every sign. This theory is supported by a tough ride into Londonderry. I was sweating it out and reviewing the wisdom of this sort of ‘holiday’, when I saw a sign Londonderry – 45km “You beauty,” I thought “I’m almost there”. I rode for another two hours and passed another sign Londonderry – 45km. What sort of sick joke was that? When I did get to Londonderry finally, and rode out the other side, for interest’s sake I turned around to check the distance sign and, you guessed it, Londonderry – 45km! It was times like that when I knew I was truly in Ireland.

In Donegal, one morning dawned bright and clear but I could see there was a serious wind blowing as I peeked through the B&B curtains. As my ride/route would be changing direction a number of times that day, I was confident that I would soon be enjoying a supportive tailwind, for at least part of the day anyway. My path was to take me to Dunfanaghy, Falcarragh, Meenaclady, Bloody Foreland, Derrybeg, Bunbeg and Gwedore. Don’t you just love those names?

Donegal photo.jpg
Co Donegal, Inishowen Trawbreaga Bay, Five Finger Beach. Source: http://www.irishcentral.com

Needless to say, I had little love in my heart after a mongrel headwind dogged me at every turn. At one stage I had to change down a gear to cycle down a hill. You tell me there wasn’t someone upstairs looking down and having a great, old laugh at my expense. It was a headwind straight from Hell and I developed yet another theory but this one related to conspiracy.

The day wore on and it got to about 2pm and I had had it. It had started to rain again and the time was right to throw an almighty tantrum. Picture: grown woman, kicking bike and shaking her fist at the heavens. “Right,” I said “the next damn B&B I see, I’m stopping. I am officially over it!”

Sure enough, I rode around a corner and there was a rickety sign for a B&B. I rode up to the house, knocked on the door, knocked again and then just opened the door and walked in. Finally an old, bustling Irish lady appeared, took one look at my cold and bedraggled state and pushes me into her warm lounge room. Imagine my surprise when I saw that every

Enya. Source: http://www.allmusic.com

inch of her lounge room walls were covered with gold and platinum records. It appears that I had just invited myself into the family home of Enya and the famous Irish band – Clannad. My B&B hostess was the sister of two Clannad band members and an aunt to three others. I had been priming myself on Irish music before leaving Australia so this was a dream come true. Six degrees of separation and

Clannad. Source: http://www.irishmusicdaily.com

I was almost a band member. Who would have thought I would have a brief brush with fame in the ‘back blocks’ of Ireland?

The next day I rode into the misty rain, thankfully without the headwind, but with Orinoco Flow ringing in my ears. That damned headwind had been lucky after all.

Sept 1996