Update 1: 6th January 2000

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One month into the trip and Ecuador has been full of surprises. Nelly was with me for this first month and our first challenge was a volcanic eruption! Just eight miles from Quito the volcano Pichincha was spewing out a grey powdery ash, periodically bringing the city to a standstill. We quickly moved south, only to find that the rainy season (not due till January) had already begun with a vengeance. As you know, Venezuela was having catastrophic floods at that time and one report suggested that the whole Andean region was affected. Our experiences weren’t so dramatic, though hiking on ridgetops at 4,000 metres in thick fog does bring the odd dramatic moment. “There shouldn’t be a cliff here” and “I think we’re in the wrong valley” – that sort of thing.

Finally we abandoned our southbound route and followed a pre-Inca track, partly paved with huge boulders, which crosses the Andes and descends to the upper Amazon rainforest. Slipping and slithering down to 1,500 metres in torrential rain, we finally fetched up in a town with streetlights and went out for a celebratory meal, during which to my eternal embarrassment I passed out. It was only exhaustion, but I came round to find myself being heaved bodily into a pickup. Horror of horrors – they wanted to cart me off to hospital!

On Christmas Eve the weather turned, giving us some fabulous walking in the run-up to New Year along one of the best stretches of Inca road in Ecuador: an airy and refreshing end to the year, culminating in the breathtaking ruins of Ingapirca. This clifftop complex was a sun-worshipping temple as well as being one of the most important staging-posts on the Royal Road. Standing on top of the massive Inca masonry (so close-fitting that you couldn’t even push a penknife between the blocks), gazing down on a patchwork of potato fields where ox-drawn ploughs were working the soil, I felt at last that the trip had begun.

A happy New Year to you all, and thanks to Tim Jasper at Rohan Designs and Chris Salveta at Vango for equipping us so brilliantly.

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