Final update: 22nd September 2000


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Well if you’ve been following these updates I’m afraid you’ve reached the last one, because I arrived back in Winchester on 17th August. A month later I’m still suffering from culture shock – clean streets, pale people, hot showers, etc. – but all good things come to an end, and this was one of the longest and most complicated trips I’ve ever done. It was well summed up by the Hampshire Chronicle’s John Docherty, whose article is below.

                          Inca fortress at SacsayhuamánInca fortress at Sacsayhuamán

John Pilkington dreams of days and nights walking in the wilds of Peru, clambering up hills, crossing chasms, sometimes desperate for clean water. Then he wakes up and finds he’s home, tucked up in bed in Culverwell Gardens, Winchester. He still has a foot in the recent past, but says that the Andean dreams will soon die away.

“Yes, it’s wonderful to be back. But walking the Royal Road of the Incas from Quito to Cusco was a great experience. I’m happy to enjoy simple things like clean water. At the same time I’m full of admiration for the Peruvians and Ecuadorians, for the way they survive and keep a smile on their faces as they eke out a living against great odds.”

John, who turns 51 tomorrow, is a modern-day adventurer. With tent and rucksack he goes to remote corners of the earth and walks the hundreds of miles he must to explore his latest dream. He has walked the Silk Road, the length of Patagonia in South America and to the kingdom of Ladakh high above India, has climbed to the heights of the great city of Machu Picchu and has photographed whales in Alaska. He writes books and newspaper articles, makes programmes for Radio 4 and gives sellout slide-shows.

If it sounds an exciting life, it is, but travelling alone can be dangerous. “This was one of the most difficult trips I have ever done. There were times when I was afraid,” he admits. Like when he fell asleep up a mountain one night, only to be roused by a group of men shouting and throwing rocks at his tent. He had to calm the men, a vigilante group, who thought he was a Shining Path terrorist. Next day he went to their village and explained what he, a ‘gringo’, was doing on the long road to Cusco.

The Royal Road was a marvellous feat of Inca engineering, vital for relay runners, for this pre-Spanish conquest civilisation never discovered the wheel or the written word. “The Incas built the road to a very high standard,” John marvels, “much higher than any Roman road I have seen. Some of it has been broken up by local people to build houses. But there is a 100-mile section that is still in exquisite condition, because it’s in a remote area.”

John’s trip lasted close on nine months. Though his routine was a grind at times – walking, eating, sleeping – his days of adventure are far from over. “I’ll make more trips, but they’ll be shorter – around three months’ duration,” he says. “Peru is impossibly remote. Roads are often closed and one town I visited was cut off for four months – and that was a substantial town. It really puts the petrol crisis in perspective.”


Thanks to John Docherty and the Hampshire Chronicle for summing up the trip so well,
and once again to Tim Jasper at
Rohan Designs and Chris Salveta at Vango for equipping me.

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